West Hartford’s Kingswood Oxford School performed ‘Sweet Charity’ as this year’s musical.
Submitted by Jackie Pisani, Kingswood Oxford
It’s hard to imagine that Kingswood Oxford’s theater department could top their stellar productions of Thoroughly Modern Millie (2020) and 9 to 5 (2022), which won the Halo Awards Best High School Musical in Connecticut, but indeed it did with a rollicking rendition of Sweet Charity on Feb. 24 and 25, showcasing bravura performances and the extraordinary dancing of its students. Chock full of inventive and invigorating stagecraft, this show was an energizing blend of rousing songs, Fosse choreography, and witty dialogue.
The ebullient Charity, played with effervescence by McKenzie Campbell ‘23 of Canton, is an unlucky-in-love dance hall hostess who yearns to find a good man. After being thrown into the lake by a narcissistic cad, Charlie (Frank Pu ‘23 of West Hartford), whom she splurged with gifts, Charity retreats to the dance hall where her fellow dime-a-dance co-workers entice the customers with detached, come hither propositions in the sizzling number “Hey Big Spender.” Fosse’s iconic dance moves are on full display: the knocked knees, bent arms, artful slouch, and in a tangle of stunningly sultry choreographed moves.
Undeterred, Charity has a chance meeting with Italian heart-throb Vittorio, enhanced by Jacob Mapp’s ‘24 of East Hartford pitch-perfect comedic timing, after he has a row with his paramour, Ursala (Alice McClure ‘23 of West Hartford). Vittorio entertains Charity at the swanky Cafe Pompeii, where they enjoy a quirky, groovy floorshow – perhaps one of the greatest extended dance sequences – impeccably lead with absolute indifferent perfection by Avery Schiff ‘23 of West Hartford, sporting a long high ponytail that acts as a character in an of itself.
Charity and Vittorio head back to his apartment as Charity belts out an anthemic “If They Could See Me Now” and playfully dons Vittioros’s keepsake top hat and walking stick. A remorseful Ursala returns to Vittorio and reconciles while Charity hides in a closet. Back to the dance hall where the duo of Helene (Diya Mistri ‘24 of Enfield) and Nickie (Faith Potter ‘23 of Simsbury) heart-of-gold wise-cracking friends lament their lot in life with their eye on their aspirations in “There’s Gotta Be Better Than This” – a West Side Story-inspired rooftop routine like “America.”
Act II opens with a meet-cute of Charity and the high-strung Oscar (Luke Roen ‘23 of West Hartford) in an elevator that gets stuck between floors. Charity calms the claustrophobic Oscar, and the embers of their unlikely relationship slowly start to burn, although Charity hides her profession from him, fearing that the buttoned-up Oscar will reject her. They attend a Rhythm of Life church revival under the bridge in NYC replete with hippies and a charismatic preacher Daddy (Zaire Ramiz ‘25 of Farmington), while acolytes fly tie-dye banners and wear bell bottoms.
Despite Charity’s employment, Oscar intends to marry her, and the group assembles in the dance hall for a celebration led by the proprietor Herman (Gordon Beck ‘26 of Tolland), who sings “I Love to Dance at Weddings.” Yet, ultimately, Oscar has cold feet, plagued by the reminder of the former men in Charity’s life. Our unstoppable optimistic Charity rallies in the reprise of ‘If You Could See Me Now,’ accompanied by a marching band’s ingenious use of drum sticks to synchronized pounding effect on the floor as the
No amateur performance here; the production is truly top-tier, which belies the fact that this is a high school performance. The 145-minute production ran briskly with non-stop intensity. Director of Theater Kyle Renolds left it all on the floor in this production, working with Broadway actor and Fosse dancer Stephanie Pope who workshopped some dance routines with the students earlier in the year. The stripped-down set utilized a few key elements to indicate the locale – retro bar, park bench, closet, cafe table, and the back of the stage was dominated by a floor-to-ceiling brass band to stunning effect. This sparseness only highlighted the on-point costuming, performances, and choreography.
Local theater critic Jim Rouoco said, “In staging Sweet Charity, Kyle Reynolds, director of theater at Kingwood Oxford, brings a vigorous, kinetic energy to the production that produces spark and dash from a bygone era laced with plenty of sizzle, razzle-dazzle, smooth talk, irony, humor, and unstoppable juggernaut. Directorially, there’s notable precision and distinctive strength here mixed with the playful timber, motif, character, and facilitated subscription of traditional Broadway musical theatre.
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