Picture the scene: Charity Hope Valentine and Oscar Lindquist have just been released from a broken down lift. They straighten themselves up and are about to go their separate ways when Oscar awkwardly asks Charity if she’d like to accompany him to church. Only this is no ordinary church…
And so one of Sweet Charity‘s barnstorming numbers is ushered in. The whole musical is a bit of an odd one, leaving a bittersweet taste rather than giving you the happy ending you expect, but this is one diversion that really does come out of nowhere. Though it wasn’t merely a bid to shoehorn in a cracker of a song; the musical is based on Federico Fellini’s film Nights of Cabiria, in which the characters get swept up in some kind of church procession. With Sweet Charity being written in the mid 60s this moment must have felt ripe to include a nod to the hippie culture that was emerging, as Oscar mentions that Daddy Brubeck’s movement began with jazz but turned into a kind of religion.
In the new production at the Donmar Warehouse, designer Robert Jones has taken the ‘Silver Age’ of Andy Warhol’s Factory as his inspiration, tentatively setting it between 1962 & 1967 and characterised by broken mirrors, tin foil decoration and anything else in a metallic design. This silver theme pervades the entire visual aspect of the production, and it seems as though Warhol & his bohemian following are the focus for this particular rendition of The Rhythm of Life. A silver clad Daddy Brubeck leads his LSD addled followers in song as Charity & Oscar get swept up in the ecstasy of it all.
Another interesting thing about Josie Rourke’s production is that there’s a revolving door through which multiple Daddy Brubecks are due to enter between now & June. Guest stars already announced are Adrian Lester, Beverley Knight, Le Gateau Chocolat and Clive Rowe, with further casting to be announced. Taking on the role in early previews (and acting as understudy alongside his part in the ensemble) is Shaq Taylor, who I just so happened to see in the same role in last year’s production at Nottingham Playhouse, which had a slightly more ‘typical’ feel – making use of the hippie influence. I remember being absolutely blown away by every part of that number, including Taylor’s incredible vocal performance – and I was not disappointed tonight either! It’s a shame that more people won’t get to witness his performance, as it is a very special moment in the show that leaves you wanting more.
As this is a slightly leftfield moment in the show, however, it does make it quite apt for bringing in guest performers; it’s a one-off moment and Daddy isn’t seen or referred to again after that point. Though with these casting announcements coming after the run has practically sold out, it’s definitely going to make Klaxon, day tickets & returns more difficult to come by… Fortunately I have a cheapo ticket for the last show of Adrian Lester’s run, though I’m curious as to how Beverley Knight will fare, and am desperate to see Le Gateau Chocolat as this seems perfect for both the song and as part of this specific production; Clive Rowe is always terrific value, so he’d also be a treat to watch. Wish me luck with these!
But these guests only take us to Saturday 18 May – there are three more weeks of the run left to find out about. I would love it if Shaq Taylor got another shot at the role in one of these weeks as he’s a truly charismatic presence, but that would still leave time for a couple of other guests to join in. It’s a shame that it clashes with Rosmersholm, as Giles Terera could be fantastic… The glorious Nandi Bhebhe (946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, A Monster Calls) could also sing and dance the hell out of it!
Who would you like to see? I’d love to hear your suggestions for future Daddy Brubecks…
Sweet Charity runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 8 June 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office (limited availability). KLAXON tickets are released every Monday at 12pm, standing tickets will be released at 10am on the day of the performance, and schools from London boroughs can see the show for free on SWEET FRIDAYS.