Fosse flair: 5 reasons to see ‘Sweet Charity’ at Wright State

Wright State senior musical theatre major Tassy Kirbas stars in "Sweet Charity" March 18-April 3. PHOTO COURTESY OF WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

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Wright State senior musical theatre major Tassy Kirbas stars in "Sweet Charity" March 18-April 3. PHOTO COURTESY OF WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Fans of Fosse rejoice! Wright State University’s excellent production of “Sweet Charity” is one of the most thrillingly danced and choreographed non-professional executions of Fosse-related material Dayton theatergoers have seen in a generation.

Directed by Marya Spring Cordes and continuing through April 3 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center, this silly yet often heartening 1966 musical comedy from composer Cy Coleman, lyricist Dorothy Fields and librettist Neil Simon, immortalized on stage and film by director/choreographer Bob Fosse, is alive and kicking once again. Reconceived within the framework of a final dress rehearsal, an idea that could’ve been expanded upon, the production is at its best when the musical numbers are given ample room to shine.

Here are five reasons to see this impressive, vocally strong showcase of a rarely staged classic about a 1960s dance hall hostess longing for love in the Big Apple.

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Guest choreographer Brandon Kelly is an alumnus of Wright State's BFA dance program. He is now assistant choreographer for Broadway's "Come From Away." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Guest choreographer Brandon Kelly is an alumnus of Wright State's BFA dance program. He is now assistant choreographer for Broadway's "Come From Away." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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Guest choreographer Brandon Kelly is an alumnus of Wright State's BFA dance program. He is now assistant choreographer for Broadway's "Come From Away." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Choreographer Brandon Kelly honors the past while capturing the present

New York-based choreographer and Wright State graduate Brandon Kelly, assistant choreographer of the Broadway and touring companies of “Come From Away,” returns with aplomb. He honors the Fosse tradition in fantastic fashion for “Big Spender” (the hostesses of the Fandango Ballroom, including the unique, well-acted, gender-bending inclusion of Chap Hollin as Helene, ignite the moment with fierce attitude and fun individuality), “Rich Man’s Frug” (divinely groovy slinkiness and head-bobbing abounds), “Rhythm of Life” (pulsating with uninhibited, “Hair”-esque flower child vibes), and a superbly crisp “I’m a Brass Band” that enjoyably embraces contemporary sensibilities in perhaps the most organic, show-within-a-show usage of the dress rehearsal concept.

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Wright State senior musical theatre major Tassy Kirbas stars in "Sweet Charity" March 18-April 3. PHOTO COURTESY OF WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Wright State senior musical theatre major Tassy Kirbas stars in "Sweet Charity" March 18-April 3. PHOTO COURTESY OF WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Combined ShapeCaption
Wright State senior musical theatre major Tassy Kirbas stars in "Sweet Charity" March 18-April 3. PHOTO COURTESY OF WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Tassy Kirbas, a triple threat conjuring Broadway legends

Wright State’s musical theatre program is often viewed as a training ground for aspiring performers and I truly believe Tassy Kirbas delivers a performance that would have Broadway producers leaping from their seats in amazement.

Setting the stage ablaze with confident radiance and remarkable style, she embodies Charity Hope Valentine with an incredible professionalism beyond her years. Her comedic earnestness and terrific vocals keep the action fun and engaging as Charity’s quest goes through ups and downs, but her outstandingly exquisite dancing – the shapes, the images, the precision – is a sight to behold. From the outset, when she dazzles in the dance-centric “Charity’s Opening,” it’s apparent something special is brewing. By the time she reaches the middle of Act 1 with a top hat and cane to effortlessly render “If My Friends Could See Me Now” with gusto, she’s absolutely conjuring the authenticity of Gwen Verdon, Shirley MacLaine and Debbie Allen to the utmost.

Folks, I don’t know what you have planned in the coming days, but anyone interested in the Fosse technique should immediately purchase a ticket to see Kirbas in action. A master class is underway, and a student is the teacher.

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Mitchell Lewis, a bundle of neurotic delight

Charity’s romantic pursuits finds a glimmer of hope in claustrophobic tax accountant Oscar Lindquist, wonderfully portrayed by Mitchell Lewis. Attacking the role with a neurotic, George Costanza-esque urgency, Lewis is a delightful presence, which makes his final scenes a kick in the gut, particularly his looks of conflicted concern late in Act 2 during the rousing merriment of “I Love to Cry at Weddings.”

The quartet bringing new life to an old score

Music director F. Wade Russo, conducting a small yet solid orchestra, effectively heightens Coleman’s iconic jazz score with a refreshing vocal quartet. Accenting certain scenes with beautiful harmonies akin to the Manhattan Transfer and borrowing a page from Coleman’s “City of Angels” and Burt Bacharach’s “Promises, Promises,” Tanner Gleason, Melissa Matarrese, Lily Rowan and Alex Tischer appealingly elevate such numbers as “Too Many Tomorrows” (smoothly led by Nick Salazar as Italian film star Vittorio Vidal) and the breezy title number (led by Lewis).

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A return to normalcy

At the beginning of the season, Wright State students had to wear masks on stage, which did not hinder the quality of performance but took some getting used to nonetheless. Due to recent updates in COVID guidelines, masks are gone, ushering in a return to normalcy that’s been greatly missed.

HOW TO GO

What: “Sweet Charity”

When: Through April 3; Mar. 25, 26, Apr. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m., Mar. 26, 27, Apr. 2 and 3 at 2 p.m.

Where: Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy., Dayton

Cost: $15-$25

Tickets: 937-775-2500 or wright.edu/tdmp

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Tassy Kirbas stars in Wright State University's production of "Sweet Charity." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Tassy Kirbas stars in Wright State University's production of "Sweet Charity." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Tassy Kirbas stars in Wright State University's production of "Sweet Charity." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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