Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre has hit the Christmas show jackpot in staging Sweet Charity this year. Under Derek Bond’s masterful direction, the musical theatre classic fills the Great Hall – bursting with big Fosse numbers, a superb live band and an extraordinary cast – it’s as if Sweet Charity was made to be performed in the round.
When Sweet Charity first burst onto the Broadway stage in 1966, it struck a chord with the audience of that era – vibrant and electric, encapsulating the spirit of the sixties. Fifty years on this iconic musical comedy continues to delight modern audiences. Our loveable heroine, Charity Hope Valentine is ‘stuck on the flypaper of life’. Working as a dance-hall hostess, she dreams of breaking free and finding her true love.
The diminutive Kaisa Hammarlund packs a punch as Charity Hope Valentine. Commanding the stage, she holds our gaze and clutches at our hearts. Comedic, graceful and free – Hammarlund’s Sweet Charity is a complete tour de force.
Staging this musical in the round must not have been without some very difficult challenges but Derek Bond’s direction fully embraces the Royal Exchanges wonderful space. James Perkins’ set design works with the unique auditorium – colourful sixties attire and well-placed props are simple and highly effective in guiding the audience through Charity’s calamitous life. Aletta Collins’ choreography is fast-paced and lively, fully allowing the animated and hugely talented cast to fill the performance area. The dance hall scenes are cleverly crafted with Cat Simmons shining as the hard-faced Helene and Holly Dale Spencer delivering a superb performance as Nickie. In a show packed full of show-stopping numbers, the two deliver a dynamic and heartfelt pairing when they sing ‘Baby, Dream Your Dream’.
Recommended for ages 11 and up, Derek Bond’s Sweet Charity is an absolute triumph. With its irresistible Cy Coleman musical score, supervised by Nigel Lilley and directed by Mark Aspinall, played superbly by a live band; an ensemble that dazzle and a top-notch central performance from Kaisa Hammarlund – it just has to be on your must-see Christmas list this year.