When student groups like MUSKET or Basement Arts introduce a new show, students from all majors and backgrounds are encouraged to audition. But usually local actors and theater enthusiasts can only find a comfy seat in the audience.
At the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Company, all community members, from single parents to math professors to Engineering undergrads, are invited to join a cast.
“The theater groups on campus are really focused on the students, as they should be,” director Ed Reynolds said. “But if the School of Music is putting on a production, adults can’t audition.”
To fill that void, Reynolds makes sure to allow faculty, alumni and Ann Arbor residents to join the many students in his casts.
The AACT’s latest, Broadway classic “Sweet Charity,” maintains an excellent tradition. Dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine (Ann Arbor resident Kathy Waugh) maintains an unwavering faith in true love despite the continuous stream of misfortune blocking her way. Somewhat seductive but thoroughly charming, Charity is determined to prove to her fellow dancers Nickie (January Provenzola) and Helene (Katie Hoeg) and the entire Fandango dance club that a girl like her can find a man.
“She has a heart of gold, but she’s a little misguided,” Reynolds said of the character. “Our Charity is phenomenal; she can make you laugh and break your heart at the same time.”
But no Charity can win an audience by herself. That’s where choreographer Jeff DiFranco’s dancers come in.
Reynolds’s passion for his talented dancers is not misplaced. The real clincher, however, lies in the distinctness of the seamless steps themselves. While incorporating a few well-known kicks and spins, DiFranco exercises entire sequences of nontraditional movement, such as the catlike “Rich Man’s Frug” and zombie-ish “The Rhythm of Life.” Each actors’ step, breath and action (both during musical numbers and monologues) synchronize crisply with the background music of the orchestra. The band not only guides dance numbers but enhances the life onstage.
Cast aside, Reynolds specifically marked the production staff as a key component of the show’s evolution. “We all have our eyes on the same prize,” Reynolds said.
Consistent infatuation with the play itself, which has been popular since early 1966, can certainly justify Reynolds’s enthusiasm. After four decades of performing in cities all over the United States and London both on and off Broadway, “Sweet Charity” has yet to disappoint audiences. “This show is 41 years old but still fresh,” Reynolds said.
The diverse University and regional cast of the production has allowed Reynolds to offer audiences a play he has always loved. “Artistically, I have high standards, and my actors deliver,” he said.
Merging students and locals might not be the norm around these parts, but in this case, it sure paid off.
Today and tomorrow at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
At the Ann Arbor Civic Theater
A little ‘Charity’ history:
-Opened on Broadway on Jan. 29, 1966.
– In 2005, Christina Applegate (“Anchorman”) played the role of Charity.
– The show was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won only one for Bob Fosse’s choreography.