Given recent headlines I think anyone would appreciate a performance of “Sweet Charity.” In addition to its positive and perky portrayal of prostitution—on second thought, this may not be the show for a certain ex-governor and his family—this classic Broadway musical features the feel good song to perseverance and optimism in the face of uncertainty and disappointment, “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” a great number whose title alone could be the mantra for most Americans just about now. Sadly, it was also the phrase that kept repeating itself through my head during most of this entertaining yet unexciting revival, presented by Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook, helmed by musical theater vet Jim Corti and with original Bob Fosse musical staging and choreography recreated by Mitzi Hamilton. Corti, in a rich musical-theater career, was a dancer for Bob Fosse back in the day when that really meant something, and he’ll always get my respect for having danced his way across America in a national tour of “Dancin’,” Mr. Fosse’s quintessential tribute to terpsichorean joy. (And for you musical-theater buffs I might add that in this same “Dancin’” company Corti strutted his stuff alongside another Chicago musical theater dance vet, Marc Robin, whose choreographic work is regularly showcased at rival Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.) Hamilton, on the other hand, while having danced for Fosse as well, is more famous for being a “Bennett” dancer, as in Michael Bennett, the mastermind behind “A Chorus Line” who famously based one of his character’s stories on Hamilton’s life. She’s also one of the few individuals with permission from Fosse’s estate to reproduce his steps, so you can imagine my disappointment when those failed to sizzle, despite the presence of these two old-school Broadway dance giants. I’m going to get technical here, but the ladies’ popcorn jumps in “There’s Gotta Be Something…” should have been sharper, monkey hands down in part one of the “Frug” needed to be more staccato, gospel claps in “Rhythm of Life” more jubilant and the calypso runs crisper. And there’s a reason the second movement of the “Frug” is subtitled “The Heavyweight.” And yet, the shadow-boxing lacked “punch” and strong bells were almost entirely unheard. The orchestra is a large part of the problem. My companion for the performance, whose ear for music is as sharp as my eyes are for movement, agreed and uttered such phrases as “lack of strong syncopation,” “timid tempo” and “dragging drummer.” I can’t articulate it any better than that though I will add that it also effected the impact of Cy Coleman’s great, brassy score. Like other elements in “Sweet Charity,” it can only hope to reach the level of sensational when played sensationally. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Oakbrook Terrace. This production is now closed.