- Finian Hackett
Fun, laughs, good time? - the not so sweet story of the 2005 revival of 'Sweet Charity'
I'm back! After four months of not posting anything (sorry!), I've finally returned. Like many people, I had a huge dip in creativity after Christmas and have really struggled to focus on writing or doing anything. Luckily things are looking a lot more positive for the future and fingers crossed theatre will be back as a staple in our lives very, very soon. In the meantime, I am going full-on Carrie Bradshaw (yes, I have binge-watched Sex and The City) and bringing some theatrical fun to everyone!
For my return blog, I thought I'd look back on one of my favourite musical theatre stories - the dramatic story of the 2005 Broadway production of one of my favourites, Sweet Charity. Yes to many this may sound like an extremely weird thing but trust me, it's good. It took 7 years, 7 different Charity's, multiple directors, a huge rehearsal bust up and a broken foot before we got to see Christina Applegate star in the 2005 Broadway revival! So let's look, Charity by Charity, at the story of this tumultuous production...
It was first announced way back in 1998 that legendary performer Paula Abdul would not just star as Charity but also choreograph a tour of the show that would eventually head to Broadway in the 1999-2000 season. Tony Award-winner Wayne Cilento was signed on to direct the Broadway-bound production. Later that year it was announced the tour would start in Wisconsin in June 1999 and then eventually open at a Nederlander theatre in New York. However, come April 1999, producers announced the tour was no longer going ahead and that they were looking to recast the iconic Paula Abdul and stage the show in time for the 2000-2001 season instead.
Information about the new production of Sweet Charity went off the radar for a few years until The New York Times revealed in May 2002 that legendary Broadway producers Fran and Barry Weissler had taken over and Walter Bobbie (Tony winner for his direction of the long-running revival of Chicago) would direct. This production was set to open on Broadway in Spring 2003. It was announced the following month that star of ABC sitcom Dharm and Greg Jenna Elfman would be playing the lead. Come September, Elfman had left the project and the show was once again up in the air.
The October of 2002 saw Oscar winner Marisa Tomei announced as the new star of the Spring 2003 production. This was looking like a light at the end of a very long tunnel as Tomei was already a credited stage actress (though not known for her singing). She was originally meant to be starring in the play Kimberley Akimbo in early 2003 but pulled out of the run just in time for Charity. Producers set pre-Broadway dates in Toronto and Chicago and a new Broadway opening date of August 17, 2003. Even Tony nominee Robert Cuccioli was in talks to play the Italian movie star, Vittorio Vidal. All was going well until the show's director Walter Bobbie amicably left the production in February 2003 sighting differences with Barry Weissler over the creative team. The show was pushed back AGAIN to the following January and then pushed back indefinitely not long after (tiring isn't it?!).
In May 2003, it was announced Marisa Tomei would enter a new round of workshops for the production with British director Timothy Sheader at the helm. Then, two major announcements were made in June. The first being Denis O'Hare joining the cast as Oscar (FYI he stayed with this production right to the end - hooray!) and the second being the shock replacement of Marisa Tomei with Tony winner Jane Krakowski. Tomei apparently didn't fare too well in the workshop and was asked to leave, leaving Jane to fill her space. This is where it gets VERY juicy. According to the NYPost, Krakowski and the shows original writer Neil Simon had a huge bust-up during the workshops. Krakowski reportedly hated the way Charity was written as stupid stating “You can’t write this way for women in 2003! I can’t play her if she’s going to be this dumb.” with Simon responding “Don’t worry. You’re not going to play her,”. Awkward. Sources from the workshop praised Krakowski's performance but said that she was too demanding for what was just a workshop. Fellow performers said that the workshop was 'chaotic' and branded the new choreography by Mark Dendy 'dreadful'. Probably not the result they wanted from the workshop...
In October 2003, now 5 years after this production began to appear, Walter Bobbie was back on board as director but this time without a Charity. Four months later the first reports came out that TV star Christina Applegate was in talks to take on the role and in March 2004 it was officially announced she would head the Broadway revival opening on April 21, 2005. Hoorah! Wayne Cilento (remember him from the Paula Abdul years?) was choreographing again and all the out of town tryout dates were set. Denis O'Hare officially joined the cast in November 2004 but then tragedy struck. The show's composer Cy Coleman passed away aged 75. He was in the midst of major rewrites of the score and adding some new songs in too. These changes and additions still featured in the final production. Despite the sad news, rehearsals began for the show that December with the added news that they would be taking over the Al Hirschfield Theatre once the recent revival of Wonderful Town had played its final performance. Charity opened in Minneapolis before moving onto Chicago but everything was going too smoothly for this production...
During the Chicago tryout, Christina Applegate broke her foot during a performance of the show. Her understudy Dylis Cronan took over halfway through the performance and finished the run in Chicago. It was then announced that Charlotte d'Amboise, who was currently playing Roxie in Chicago, had been flown in at the last minute and was to play the part in Boston before Applegate returned when it went to Broadway. That wasn't the only cast change. Solange Sandy and Natascia Diaz were both mysteriously replaced by Kyra DaCosta and Janine LaManna. The two new actresses were taking over the parts of Nickie and Helene. An explanation was never given as to why they were replaced. Later that week it was confirmed that d'Amboise would now headline Charity on Broadway but that soon changed. On March 25th, it was announced that due to poor ticket sales the show would close for good in Boston and the Broadway production was cancelled. However, just four days later, the Broadway run was back on! Applegate reportedly convinced producers to find the extra cash for the production which they miraculously did! (Honestly, I am getting second-hand stress just from writing about this). Charlotte d'Amboise opened in previews on April 11th with Christina Applegate officially taking over the role on April 18th, the same day d'Amboise returned to Chicago. After years and years of struggles, the show FINALLY opened on Broadway on May 4th, 2005. The show received 4 nominations at the Outer Critics Circle Awards and 4 nominations at the Drama Desk Awards (winning one for Denis O'Hare). The show also received three Tony nominations for Best Musical Revival, Best Actress in a Musical for Applegate and Best Choreography for Cilento.
Probably one of the weirdest moments of this whole story was the reports in November 2005 that Britney Spears and her then-husband Kevin Federline would be taking over the lead characters of Charity and Oscar. The rumours started when the twosome came to see the production with Spears' mother. It was also reported the show would move to the Hilton (now Lyric) Theatre which has 400 more seats than the Al Hirschfield. However, this never came to fruition and the show soon announced it would close on December 31st, 2005. When it closed, the show had played 279 official performances on Broadway.
And thus ends the drama that was the revival of Sweet Charity! Was it worth all the hassle? Possibly not. I do feel like they could've done a lot more with this revival (maybe Krakowksi was right after all) but this cast recording has to be my favourite of all the Charity recordings! Will we see Charity on Broadway again anytime soon? Well, the 2016 off-Broadway production with Sutton Foster was rumoured to make the move to Broadway but mixed reviews and Sutton Foster's filming schedule for Younger put a stop to that pretty quickly. I think that if Charity is revived it needs to be done differently and looked at from a different angle compared to previous productions. Fingers crossed if it does happen - it will be a lot more plain sailing than this one!