Wednesday, 6 January 2010
Alas, there were no production photos available of the Rich Man's Frug at the Pompeii Club, tongue-in-cheek highlight of the Menier Chocolate Factory's production of Sweet Charity. We squeezed in last night; I'd link, but the show's sold out there prior to a TBC West End run. Hardly the next best thing, then, to have the Fosse original on YouTube. The whole frugging works, in fact, above, which is why I think we can put up with a bit of not inappropriate Latin dubbing; the English-language clip only has the first couple of minutes.
Stephen Mear's choreography at the Menier (photograph above, like the others below, by Catherine Ashmore) pays homage, but his ChocFac Frug also manages to raise a laugh or two from its poker-faced men in white polo-necks and leggy lead girl (Ebony Molina). Where do they come from, all these bright young things? The answer's simple: from the show-training of our many colleges and drama schools, which seems to be better than ever. In the past fortnight we've also seen two handsome leading men who can really sing - Julian Ovenden in Annie Get Your Gun, followed here by Mark Umbers, who plays all the unreliable men in Charity Hope Valentine's hopeless love life. Here he is with Tamzin Outhwaite's heroine at Barney's Chile Hacienda.
Outhwaite, whose departure from EastEnders probably coincided with the end of my on-off addiction, can sing, articulate, dance and look good, but for me she doesn't quite have the X-Factor which I found in Josefina Gabrielle's sassy sidekick no. 1 (pictured here with Outhwaite and the also excellent Tiffany Graves).
'Something Better Than This', the girls' big trio, is quite a number. So are the other known quantities - a jaded 'Big Spender', 'If My Friends Could See Me Now' and a spoofy, pre-Hair 'Rhythm of Life'. Otherwise Cy Coleman's score and Dorothy Fields's lyrics have their dodgy moments. An all-out witty entertainment like Annie Get Your Gun or La Cage aux Folles it ain't, but it was brilliantly done here with all the economies turned into virtues, and a superb brass trio in Nigel Lilley's nine-piece band (though I don't see why in that small space any miking was necessary).
As for the source, I guess you just have to forget the film original, as I can't when Sondheim's A Little Night Music fails to deliver the second-half magic of Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. Here the problem is Sweet Charity's several cop-outs compared to its inspiration, Fellini's roller-coaster Le Notti di Cabiria. It might have been wise even in 1960s New York, well evoked, to make Charity a dance-floor hostess who doesn't go all the way rather than a happy hooker, but oh, the end, the end. I won't spoil it, if there's anything to spoil, but Mr. Oscar Lindquist is not really a cad, and doesn't evoke a response anywhere near to the heartbreak of Giulietta Masina's Cabiria. Amazingly, the last seven minutes are on YouTube, but not all at once. So we can see the full expressive range of the great Masina when faced with a horrible truth. Spoiler alert: better watch the whole film first, but for a sample of Masina's plastic art you can't do better than this.
Believ it or not, there's an optimistic aftermath. I don't know how the above poster could have been satisfied with ending where he did; this ultima scena takes up exactly where the above leaves off. Nino Rota's score works its usual magic.
Pure cinematic genius: Fellini knows how to get the best out of his extraordinary missus. And of course it was Cabiria's Oscar nomination which prompted Masina to go off to Hollywood little thinking her character would triumph (she describes it amusingly in an interview attached to the DVD of La Strada) and which inspired Bob Fosse to think of adapting the film for Broadway. I got bored when the movie Sweet Charity turned up on TV some years ago, but I'll take one expert's word for it that this is one of the few great musicals filmed in the 1960s and give it another try.