Review: Sweet Charity (Mainstage Theatre Company)

Maintage Theatre Company brings the sexually-hinged musical Sweet Charity to Toronto

This youth production of Sweet Charity by Mainstage Theatre Company playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille was an impressively emotional, refined, and enjoyable experience. Ages be darned, these young folks handle adult subject matter with capacity beyond their years.

I had never seen the show before, having only heard or sung the songs. I was quite excited to see one of my all-time favourite musical theatre songs, “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”, performed in the flesh.

I was not disappointed! Sweet Charity follows the journey of Charity Hope Valentine, an 8-years-in dance hall hostess in NYC, as she learns to love, be loved, and hopefully make it out of her dead-end job.

Upon entering the theatre, my friend Meg and I were already well-pleased with the mobile set design. Three vanities, some clothing racks, and an elevator — yes, they constructed a fake elevator, and a convincing one at that — are all anchored by the towering ‘billboard.’

Throughout the show, this billboard displays projections to help guide the audience through the scenes and, at times, offer cheeky commentary. The projections by lighting designer Noah Feaver are clever, functional, and attractive all at once.

Suddenly, in pre-show, the stage is flooded with girls in red dresses, primping and preening and smoking and sighing before the mirrors. Their presence shakes me into the reality of what I’m watching: minors acting as weary sex workers.

Overcoming the initial oddity of watching sex work transposed onto the privacy of teenage sexuality did take me a couple of songs. I’m not sure I entirely overcame, but, I suspended my disbelief as much as I could.

To be clear, I think it’s valuable and important that teens explore their sexual expression. I simply acknowledge the fact that the characters are sexually exploited adults, and in watching teens embody them, I experienced some cognitive dissonance.

That said, I think this was tastefully navigated through both the loving direction of Alain Richer and the Fosse-esque-but-not-too-sexy choreography of Michele Shuster. They have a clear passion and nurturing heart for these young people.

One song in particular, “Rhythm of Life”, was a glorious highlight of this unified vision. The integration of vibrant costumes (Carmen Amini), precise music direction (Shari Porter), choreography, and professional performances in this full company number topped the chart for me.

I must also note the largely seamless transitions and resourceful costume choices that kept this massive ensemble a smooth operation.

Lead actor, Grace Rockett, is blooming an incredible voice. She carried this show with simply magnificent grace, even embodying the very adult pain of a broken engagement with heartbreaking truth. I caught Meg next to me wiping tears away in the final scene. Couple that power with a name like Grace Rockett, and this girl is bound for greatness if she wants it.

Also notable were Liam Donovan (Oscar Lindquist) for his endearing neuroticism, Aim´ee Tremblay Woodman (Helene) for her maturity of spirit and syrupy soprano, and Rachel Bayley (Company) for her effortless humour.

The fact that a lot of family members were hooting and hollering in a silly-loving sort of way throughout the show only added to the high calibre of the evening. There was no ego in this room, just sincere play, an oft-underrated element in the competitive Toronto arts scene.

Help bring these performers the full house they deserve and go see Mainstage Theatre Company‘s production of Sweet Charity — you just might love it.

Details

  • Sweet Charity plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.) until May 27, 2018.
  • Performances run May 25 and 26 at 7:30 pm with matinees on May 26 and 27 at 1:30 pm.
  • Tickets are $35 adult and $20 student.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-504-7529), and in person at the venue’s box office.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in the front row.

Photo courtesy of the company.