Jan 10, 2020

The Ritz Theatre Company Presents Bob Fosse Musical Classic, SWEET CHARITY

(January, 2020 — Haddon Township, NJ) — The Ritz Theatre Company is proud to present the opening show of its 35th Anniversary season, Sweet Charity, a newly imagined production of the high-energy musical comedy with dancing inspired by the great Bob Fosse, directed by the father-daughter duo of Roberta and Bruce Curless! The production runs from January 9th through February 2nd.

“This is the fifth time I have worked on this show. I love the music, the dance, and the book by Neil Simon,” says Mr. Curless, who also serves as the Producing Artistic Director of the Ritz Theatre. “My first exposure to Sweet Charity was in summer stock in Northern Indiana and I immediately fell in love with the show! I practically know every lyric to every song. When we started looking for a show to open the 35th Anniversary season, I knew we wanted something big, bright, and bold. Sweet Charity certainly fit the bill, but the original Broadway production boasted a full cast of thirty! Could we afford producing the show with a cast of that size, with all those costumes? And then, because the book for the show is so strong, we thought, ‘Why not minimize the cast size and create an innovative ensemble piece that effectively conveys and captures the spirit of the entire show?’ And so, we’re delighted to showcase an eight-member cast of versatile and talented performers, telling the story and sharing the music and dance that I fell in love with.”

Inspired by Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, Sweet Charity explores the turbulent love life of Charity Hope Valentine, a hopelessly romantic but comically unfortunate dance hall hostess in New York City. With a tuneful, groovy, mid-1960s score by Cy Coleman, sparkling lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and a hilarious book by Neil Simon, Sweet Charity captures all the energy, humor, and heartbreak of “Life in the Big City” for an unfortunate but irrepressible optimist.

“By casting only eight (yet tremendously multitalented) actors, we have given the audience the opportunity to get to know each performer, like an ensemble comedy cast,” explains Mr. Curless. “Saturday Night Live is a perfect example of loving an ensemble for their ability to create many, vibrant, varied characters. So with wigs, hats, glasses, and quick changes to blow your mind, we’re very much looking forward to presenting this unique version of Sweet Charity, our very own “Ritz Night Live.”

The original Broadway production of Sweet Charity opened in 1966 and was ultimately nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (the superlative Gwen Verdon), and Best Direction of a Musical. Thanks to the artistic vision and inventiveness of Bob Fosse (who also served as director), the show took home the Tony Award for Best Choreography that season. Adapted into a film version starring Shirley MacLaine in 1969, the show has been revived numerous times in the decades since, with such eminent musical theatre actresses as Christina Applegate and Sutton Foster tackling the role of Charity, something that may speak to the overall allure and “relatability” of the title heroine.

“I am particularly inspired by the way the show chooses to tell Charity’s story,” says Ms. Curless, who also doubles as the show’s choreographer. “This could very easily be a musical about a woman who is a victim of circumstance, but instead it is a musical about a woman who never loses hope. Charity shows the audience a unique strength by choosing to remain hopeful throughout her journey, and by choosing to always see the best in people. For better or worse, Charity never allows any of the men in her life to change her heart. Sweet Charity stands the test of time because it’s exciting to watch someone refuse to give up.”

Taking on the iconic role of Charity Hope Valentine in this new Ritz production of Sweet Charity is Media, Pennsylvania native Lauren Paige Bristow, an alumnus of the Rock School for Dance Education who debuted at the Ritz last season as “The Mermaid” in the musical Big Fish.

“It has truly been such a gift to be a part of this show, as well as to learn this role. I must admit that it was extremely daunting at first, being that this is a show I hold dear to my heart,” says Ms. Bristow. “Many of my idols have played Charity and I honestly just wanted to do her justice. I had to stop and remind myself that my Charity doesn’t have to be the same as Gwen Verdon, Debbie Allen, Shirley MacLaine and Sutton Foster’s interpretations of her—and that’s okay! I’m a different person. I’m still quite young, too, so that will also affect my interpretation of the role. Charity is extremely kind, friendly, witty, and (quite literally) has her heart on her sleeve. Her boundless optimism is remarkable. But beneath the surface, there’s more to her than a cheerful grin. She has so much depth to her. What I’ve learned the most is that Charity really isn’t so different from the rest of us.”

All told, this Ritz production of Sweet Charity promises to keenly and ardently showcase the cheer-inducing journey of its title heroine as she continually chases down the chance to find her very own “Happily Ever After” while encountering a slew of quirky and eccentric characters.

“When I watch the show, I experience an entire evening of watching Charity find joy in every scene,” says Ms. Curless. “Even in her most vulnerable moments, I never watch her lose her resolve. I hope the audience is just as inspired as I am by her determination. Our cast has developed full and vibrant characters that are loads of fun to root for, and I can’t wait for them to share that with the audience.”

Joining the Curless tandem on this project are music director Tim Brown, costumer Tina Marie Green-Heinze, set designer Will Bryant, lighting designer Chris Miller, sound designer Matthew Gallagher, prop artisans Patti Deitch, Megan Iafolla, and Corvette Cronin, and seven extremely versatile performers alongside Ms. Bristow’s Charity. All are eager to deliver a show that’s equally entertaining, emphatic, and empathetic.

“I hope that audiences will leave the theater feeling like they can relate to Charity,” concludes Ms. Bristow. “When I was a senior in high school, I saw the incomparable Sutton Foster (who is also my biggest inspiration) play Charity in the 2016 Off-Broadway production of Sweet Charity. That day, I felt this overwhelming sense of being ‘seen’ by this character and her story, regardless of Charity’s circumstances. It was truly a life-changing experience to be in that audience. Charity just wants what we all want: to be loved unconditionally. I hope audiences leave having seen a little bit of themselves in her.”

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