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3 Popular Musicals Sing of Quest for Self-Esteem

Charity Hope Valentine has a big heart (“Love is her religion”), decidedly awful taste in men, but a boundless belief that the next man who enters her life might marry her. She also has a desperate desire to free herself from the job she has been unable to leave for the past eight years – working as a dance hall girl at New York’s Fandango Ballroom, where she and her co-workers don’t so much dance as “defend themselves to music.” It is the 1960s, and while the feminist movement might be starting to blossom, it definitely hasn’t reached Charity – at least not quite yet.

The songs in this hit 1966 musical – with jazzy music by Cy Coleman and punchy lyrics by Dorothy Fields – have long since become standards, from “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now” to “Where Am I Going?” and “I’m a Brass Band.” And while some of the late Neil Simon’s lines for the show’s book are admittedly antiquated, his heart and wit are still appealing.

But the real reason to see this show – which was originally created by director-choreographer Bob Fosse for his wife, Gwen Verdon – is for the dancing. And at the Marriott, director-choreographer Alex Sanchez and his excellent dancers have captured Fosse’s signature style with great panache, and added plenty of flourishes of their own in such sensational numbers as “Rich Man’s Frug” (with its highly stylized “posh set” affectations), “Big Spender” (with the hilariously jaded attitudes of the working girls), “The Rhythm of Life” (with its funky hippie era, cult church antics), and the celebratory “I’m a Brass Band.”

The musical puts marathon-like demands on its title character, and Anne Horak not only sings and dances with stylish ease (launching into full-voiced song after the most demanding dance routines), but brings a natural vulnerability and resilience to Charity that make her more than an impish cartoon. True, she sees men as rescue fantasies, but she is a veteran of the school of hard knocks with the ability to bounce back from every disappointment.

Alex Goodrich brings his marvelous gift for physical comedy to the role of Oscar Lindquist, the neurotic, claustrophobic nerd who is intent on self-improvement but ultimately too insecure and moralistic to commit to Charity. He also brings a notable ferocity to his final breakup with her that adds a whole new gravity to the show.

Charity’s “chorus of best friends” is played with great zest by singer-dancers Dani Spieler and NaTonia Monet, who are backed by a sensational ensemble of male and female dancers, with Adam Jacobs as Italian film star Vittorio Vidal, Alexandra Palkovic as his tempestuous girlfriend, Kenny Ingram as Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck (the charlatan at the head of The Rhythm of Life Church), and Terry Hamilton as the gruff manager of the Fandango.

Scott Davis’ minimalist set is mostly on wheels, and is brightened by Anthony Churchill’s pop art-like projections and Mieka van der Ploeg’s fanciful costumes. Cheers, too, for the work of music director Ryan T. Nelson and the wonderfully brassy sound of the orchestra conducted by Patti Garwood.