That's what we call a dress rehearsal. It's the opening night of Sweet Charity at 2nd Street Theatre and it's a full house in the tiny theater. As a Second Street Theatre virgin I am surprised by how small the theater really is. While some would call this an "intimate" setting, I am more concerned that if there is a fire, or if this happens to be a sort of Cats-like production where the cast interacts with the audience, I won't be able to get out of the theater fast enough and will therefore either die in the flames or be arrested for punching an overzealous actor. The show could not start soon enough. As the show tunes crank out of the sound system, the lights shine on a young couple standing by the left edge of the stage.
Sweet Charity tells the story of a young woman named Charity Hope Valentine who works at a dance hall in New York City as a sort of dance partner for hire. The play begins with Charity being pushed into Central Park Lake by her boyfriend. Charity later meets Oscar Lindquist, a nerdy tax accountant. The two fall madly in love until Oscar learns of Charity's occupation as a dance hall hostess. The play ends with Charity again being pushed into Central Park Lake by Oscar and then emerging (presumably with hepatitis or some other water-borne disease by this point) optimistic that she will some day find love and get away from the dance hall. The musical numbers include hits like "Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now."
The lead role of Charity is played, and played well, by Vanessa Farnsworth, whose take on Charity is believable, spunky and unusually funny. Farnsworth commanded attention in each scene - even when she was in the background, in a movie star's hotel room closet guzzling a beer. Another standout was Jolie Miller who played Nickie, Charity's fellow dance hall coworker. Miller not only had the strongest singing voice in the cast, but also the gift of comedic timing and often stole the scene with her one-liners. Dance hall owner Helga, played by Lori White (who also moonlighted as a hippie in one scene) was hilarious and remained completely in character, even during song.
The most entertaining scene in the entire play did not include the lead characters. Charity and Oscar stood on the sideline at a Rhythm of Life Church while the cast sang, danced and acted realistically stoned to the song "Rhythm of Life." Gail Bartley's costuming for this scene was a perfect blend of '60s swinger and hippie styling.
The male leads had good acting chops, but their singing disappointed. Brad Knowles is convincing as Oscar, especially when he is trapped in an elevator suffering from a claustrophobic attack and Nathan Wegner bravely attempted an unidentifiable accent that by my best guess was meant to be Italian as movie star Vittorio Vidal.
The set design was remarkably ingenious considering how tiny the actual performance area was. Who knew you could turn New York City construction scaffolding into a hotel room closet and a hippie church pulpit? Unfortunately, the entire cast was hindered by glitches with the sound. The music was too early, too late or wrong in almost every scene. Obviously, this is an easy fix and can be chalked up to opening night inexperience.
For those who have never been to 2nd Street Theatre, here are some facts you should know: First, 2nd Street Theatre is not actually on Second Street. It's on Lafayette. Secondly, they have some kick-ass desserts. So good you contemplate smuggling them out in your purse. Finally, when they put on a production like Sweet Charity, you should go. Even though musicals are notoriously difficult for community theater, this cast delivers.
8pm Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3pm Sundays, May 29-June 28. 2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave. 312-9626. $21, $18/students & seniors (62 & up).