This year's big winter show at the Menier Chocolate Factory is a revival of Sweet Charity, another show angling for a West End transfer and judging from the fact that its whole run has been sold out for ages, I wouldn't be too surprised if it gets it. I went with Christopher, and our record of theatre trips together hasn't always been the best (Fram, anyone?) but this was one of the good'uns. Tamzin Outhwaite plays the title role, a "dance hall hostess" who's getting a bit past her sell-by date (Christopher would like it made clear that he did not comment in the interval about her looking older in person, or make a crack about the botox wearing off.) Charity's problem is men, and she seems doomed to repeat the same mistakes with them (illustrated by the fact that her various suitors are all played by Mark Umbers, who's very funny in the multiple roles.)
Outhwaite is very good, with a strong singing voice, and despite being in the front row I was distracted enough by her performance not to jump on stage and claw her eyes out for daring to be married to Tom Ellis. So that's nice. Josefina Gabrielle and Tiffany Graves are also good as Charity's friends, and in the supporting cast Annalisa Rossi stands out as a particularly gobby dance hall girl, with a nice line in physical comedy. The production has a strong '60s feel that affectionately makes fun of the period, especially its dance styles, and with a fair number of well-known songs director Matthew White does a good job of making them seem fresh - particularly the best-known, "Hey Big Spender," which he gives back its rather sleazy original meaning and strips of any karaoke associations. The story is barely there, but the songs and energy make up for it, this is an excellent example of how well a musical can work.
Sweet Charity by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields is booking until the 7th of March at the Menier Chocolate Factory (returns only.)