Pumpkin Charity

A Visit to Sweet Charity, Christina Applegate's New Career Highlight after Married... with Children

By Andreas Carl, a Rare Visitor to Musicals
Revised by Carolyn Crapo
Published on November 13, 2005

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In fall of 2005, I spent some days in New York. This was my first time in the Big Apple, so I could finally meet fellow Bundy fan Carolyn. She suggested to see Sweet Charity, starring Christina Applegate in her Broadway debut. Carolyn often goes to plays and musicals. She has seen Sweet Charity the night before it opened in New York. Of course I agreed immediately to her offer.

 Bus  New York City bus

Sweet Charity is a 1960s Broadway musical remake of Federico Fellini's 1957 movie Le Notti di Cabiria. It opened on January 29, 1966 at the Palace Theatre and was a big success, running for 608 performances. The musical features several well-known songs, such as Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now. There is also a 1969 movie with Shirley MacLaine as Charity. Before this 2005 revival there was a first one in 1986. Christina plays the main character Charity Hope Valentine, a naive dance hall hostess with a heart of gold. Christina has to compete with the original 1966 Charity Gwen Verdon. Before the show came to Broadway it was featured in Minneapolis, Chicago and Boston. In Chicago on March 11, Christina broke her fifth metatarsal foot bone stepping off a lamppost and was replaced with Charlotte d'Amboise. After this three-city tour the producers first decided to stop the show due to lack of interest, but two days later the cancellation was revoked as Christina's foot was healing faster than expected. She rejoined the cast on April 18. Sweet Charity finally opened on Broadway on May 4, 2005. The Broadway opening party at Guastavino's on May 4th included guests like Gwyneth Paltrow, the Trumps and Alec Baldwin. And a couple of days later, Christina was nominated for a Tony Award as best leading actress in a musical.

 Times Square  Queue on Times Square

First I had to get tickets to the show. As tickets to Broadway hit musicals cost about US$ 100, we decided to get them at the TKTS booth on Duffy Square (kind of the upper half of Times Square) where they sell them half price after 3 pm for non sold out shows of the same day. So I stood in line for about 45 minutes to get them - which is usually a bad sign for a show's success. Two hours before the show I went to see Carolyn for the first time. We met in front of the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, about 9 years after our first internet contact at the newsgroup alt.tv.mwc. In the bar, we had some seafood and talked a lot about things like MwC/Christina/Sweet Charity and NYC/USA/Europe/Switzerland.

The Al Hirschfeld Theatre (note the British spelling) near Times Square on 302 West 45th Street is a traditional Broadway theatre with 1437 seats, built in 1924. Until 2003 it was named Martin Beck Theatre. The show was about to start at 8pm, but there was a short delay and we had to stand in line for a couple of minutes. The theatre is much more decorated on the inside than it looks like from the Italian renaissance facade.

 Al Hirschfeld Theatre  Al Hirschfeld Theatre

We got astonishingly good 3rd row seats on the left edge of the stage. Unfortunately it is forbidden to take pictures of the hall before the end of the show. The show looked sold out and the audience was in a good mood, applauding the overture several times. It is also normal to give entrance applauses to the principal cast. That night, the character of Charity's boyfriend Oscar wasn't played by Denis O'Hare but by Timothy Edward Smith. Christina was not the only TV star on the show. The part of Kelly's dance hall boss Herman was played by Wayne Knight from Seinfeld and 3rd Rock from the Sun.

The show was amazing. I have to admit I can't compare it to a lot of other musicals, but Christina's singing and dancing performance (she still has to wear elf boots with low heels to protect her foot) doesn't remind of a Hollywood TV show family kid actress. I called this report Pumpkin Charity because Christina plays a young dumb girl in her biggest theatre role so far, just as in her biggest TV role. But I was reminded of Kelly only once or twice when Christina put on a stunned face. Of course playing on stage is very different from playing for a TV show or on a film set because people in the 22nd row also have to see the emotions played on stage. However, she doesn't make the impression to me that this is her first musical. I guess she could learn a lot from the other cast members with Broadway experience. The cast's song Big Spender was very powerful. Carolyn said: Christina's acting and jokes were perfect. They've stayed perfect, but her dancing and especially her singing have improved since May. She has a fine character voice and it's really strengthened. And she's really enjoying herself up there, and it shows! After mixed reviews for the pre-Brodway performances she got good reviews for her first Broadway shows. In the scene at Vittorio Vidal's place, Charity hid in a closet right in front of us, so she was only about 5 meters away from us. During the intermission, Carolyn and me walked a little through the theatre, watching the sound & light control panel and the queue in front of the ladies' restroom. The intermission was also a break for the elevator scene where we couldn't see both actors all the time. But they were constantly moving around, so that wasn't too bad. Generally Sweet Charity was a great experience, and attending a musical should be part of every visit of a New York tourist.

 Al Hirschfeld Theatre  Andreas, Christina & Carolyn

After the show we went to a Greek diner for desert. Carolyn offered me to show me the Bronx, which is still an unusual place to go for a foreign tourist, despite the fact that the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden are quite famous. She and her father Ray gave me a fantastic tour around their borough, followed by having dinner in their neighbourhood. I'd like to thank them very much for everything!

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© Andreas Carl 2005