Curtain Call

Photo: Courtesy of Paul Kolnik; Illustration by Sean McCabe

First, there was Watergate. Thereafter, every minor brouhaha became a Somethinggate, and now in the theater we have had Applegate. Christina Applegate, star of the incoming revival of Sweet Charity, broke her foot in Chicago, and her standby, Charlotte d’Amboise, opened to good reviews in Boston. She also did the New York previews to warm audience acclaim; then, recovered, Christina opened in her Broadway debut. Many people have seen both, and there are Christinites and Charlottians. I say both ladies have their special strengths: Charlotte, the sophisticated savvy of a mature, experienced performer; Christina, the fervor of a bright and eager Broadway newcomer. Charlotte is a genuine dancer; Christina, regardless of foot condition, is not. Both actresses sing competently, but the older Charlotte manages an appropriately life-battered quality; Christina seems too sweetly young, winsome, and innocent for a dance-hall hostess.

But, then, Neil Simon’s book is a deliberate softening of Federico Fellini’s wonderful Nights of Cabiria, on which it was based. Cabiria is a streetwalker, and Giulietta Masina played her as a somewhat simpleminded, plain-faced waif, which worked well. Gwen Verdon, in the original production of the musical with Bob Fosse’s dances, got it right, too. Now we have less impressive choreography by Wayne Cilento, rather routine direction by Walter Bobbie, and a tad more than the appropriate tackiness in Scott Pask’s scenery. Simon made some minor revisions in the book, but the ending in particular, whether revised or not, seems less than compelling.

Though this is not one of the gifted Cy Coleman’s best efforts, there are a few catchy songs with snappy lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The supporting cast is more than adequate; of particular note are Denis O’Hare as the sublimely dithering suitor and Paul Schoeffler as the movie star nicely combining suavity with bluffness. As they say in the weather reports, not a total washout, but don’t bring your suntan lotion.

Dear readers, this will be my final New York column, and it has been a thrilling ride, if “ride” is the right word for 36 years and eight months, which is considerably longer than the Kentucky Derby. I have seen administrations come and go, and have found all of them congenial and fun to work for. On the whole, I have been left to my own devices, which I consider best, although a helpful guiding hand from above is not bad either.

Thirty-six-plus years is rather like a marriage, falling as it does midway between a silver and a golden anniversary. I don’t know what the exact term for it is; perhaps divorce time. It is entirely possible that there is such a thing as a time for renewal, both for 37-year-old magazines and an 80-year-old critic. Longevity is a staple in my family, and I—though conceivably not the best judge of this—do not see a decline in my brain or writing hand. But I realize that new starts can be beneficial even to old (elderly? mature? experienced?) critics, and, as David Mamet has confirmed with the title of one of his movies, things change.

So this is a fond farewell to you, my readers, in whatever spirit you read me. We may yet meet at some other crossroads; in any case, I have enjoyed your sensed company, whether you wrote me fan or hate letters, or neither. Keep up your interest in this column and in the Theater with a capital T, which, as you and I know, is bigger than all of us.

Sweet Charity
Book by Neil Simon.
Music by Cy Coleman.
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields.
Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

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“Noooooooooooo!” —Christina Applegate

Curtain Call