“The lines—oh, the lines!” local actress Kendra Goehring-Garrett says of her lead character Charity Hope Valentine—a role most folks know from Shirley Maclaine’s famed portrayal in the film version of Neil Simon’s “Sweet Charity.”
Based on Federico Fellini’s screenplay for “Nights of Cabiria,” the show opened in 1966 on Broadway and scored a Best Choreography Tony, thanks to dance stalwart Bob Fosse’s magical touch. Thalian Association will open the show this weekend, led by director and choreographer Judy Greenhut.
Greenhut got her start as a dancer over three decades ago, having performed on TV classics “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” She went on to dance with NY’s American Dance Machine, a company that focuses on creating archival collections of original choreography from Broadway. Raised on Fosse’s style, Greenhut is drawn to how he tells a character’s story through body—turned-in feet and swaying hips—rather than moves merely imitated.
“In ‘The Rich Man’s Frug,’ for instance, he has men walking around with their noses in the air, arched backs and lots of attitude, to imply a wealthy snob. Then in ‘If They Could See Me Now,’ Charity dances with full abandon after receiving famous actor Victorio Vidal’s top hat and cane, with silly moves and bumps and grinds.”
Casting Goehring-Garrett as Charity comes as no surprise. The local actress’ talent in song and dance is something to behold, as she’s played numerous lead roles from the sultry Dorothy Valens in “Blue Velvet the Musical” to the hopeful Cinderella in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” The vivacity of Charity has the actress finding a renewal within her own spirit.
“She is hopelessly optimistic,” Goehring-Garrett tells, “especially when it comes to love!” The audience is privy to Charity’s hopes and dreams from her inner monologues. It’s part of what make the character quirky.
“It’s fun portraying someone who is so complex,” according to Goehring-Garrett, who adores how Charity wears her heart on her sleeve. “She dances through her life—or at least her life in this script. She truly dances through her emotions. So for me the dance is just another form of dialogue, and it helps my story along.”
“Sweet Charity” follows a young girl working in a run-down dance hall who just wants to find love—true love, that is. She falls for Italian actor Vittorio Vidal until she meets Oscar Lindquist—a gentleman whose shy ways oppose Charity’s gift of gab.
Played by Nick Williams, Vidal is a true romantic, even if jaded by his international prowess. “His best quality is his ability for empathy—and he has a big heart,” Williams tells. Much of the same can be said about Simon’s prowess with a pen and his understanding of comedy. “The writing is great because it, too, has a lot of heart,” Williams notes. “It comes from a real place and has a sense of timeless innocence.”
Playing Charity’s best friend Helene will be Madison Moss—a local actress who recently moved to Charleston, SC. The sarcastic spunk of Helene has been most fun for Moss. “She is clearly stuck living a life she never would’ve hoped for in her childhood dreams,” Moss notes. “It has been such a challenge to master the physicality of Helene. She’s been through a lot in her life and dreams of such a different life. . . . She acts tough sometimes, but I think she wants the best for all of the girls in the dance hall.”
Rounding out the production are Alissa Fetherolf, Kim Ewonus, Brenton Schraff, Amy Carter, and Kevin Green. The Fandango Girls will consist of Beth Swindell, Hunter Wyatt, Laura Brodgen-Primavera, Mariah Martin, Alex Payne, Tamara Mercer, Kylie Beinke, and Dianne Marchese.
A purist, Greenhut has not taken liberties to modernize or change the show at its foundation. She considers it her job to stick to its core intent, since the traditions from which it was born has moved so many. “I think Fosse, the writers, the music, the orchestrations all got it right the first time!” Greenhut tells.
With the orchestra led by Denice Hopper, audiences will recognize a slew of hits, from “Big Spender” to “If They Could See Me Now” to “Something Better Than This.” As well, fluidity will be at the forefront, from number to number. “I hate blackouts!” Greenhut declares. “I want the show to ‘move’—I don’t want to keep the audience waiting!”