Reviewer: Mark Clegg
From the iconic brassy six note opening of Big Spender at the start of the overture to the not-very-happy ending, Sweet Charity is an iron-clad classic. Originally opening on Broadway in 1967, this is a rerelease of the soundtrack of the London cast from the following year.
Charity Hope Valentine is a hostess in a New York dance hall who dreams of better things. Her boundless optimism is constantly put to the test as through the course of the musical she embarks a string of unsuccessful and often disastrous love affairs. Plot-wise that’s about it. However along the way it has a lot to say about society, class, hopes and dreams, as well as delivering an absolutely cracking score which is displayed in all of its finery here.
Very few musicals can boast so many songs that have become standards that have a life beyond the confines of the show. Obviously there is the aforementioned Big Spender which many will know from Shirley Bassey’s belting rendition. Here it is presented as it should be – as the dance hall girls’ slightly sleazy and completely laconic call to their potential clients. Alongside that we are treated to the toe-tapping If My Friends Could See Me Now, the beautiful Baby Dream Your Dream, the rousing I’m a Brass Band and the none-more-sixties Rich Man’s Frug.
There are also at least two major show stoppers – the amusing I Love to Cry at Weddings and the stunning The Rhythm of Life. There is not a dud among them with Cy Coleman’s memorable score being perfectly complimented by Dorothy Field’s witty lyrics that sit easily alongside the great Neil Simon’s libretto (which sadly is not represented on this recording at all).
What is interesting to note that although the story is relentlessly downbeat, the heroine is just the opposite and to reflect this every single song is optimistic and light hearted. Even the fiery There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This is packed with wit and hope.
As with many vintage cast recordings, the performances are sometimes quite raw and one suspects that some of the singers were better suited to performing live than being recorded. Juliet Prowse makes a very good Charity and has a slightly nicer singing voice than Broadway’s Gwen Verdon (although Verdon gives more character to the role). Apart from the performers, this recording does not differ at all from the Broadway version and only completists would need to own both. However if you do not own a copy of either, now is the time to fill that massive void in your life.
Sony Masterworks Broadway do not have any specific reason to rerelease this soundtrack right now as Sweet Charity is not celebrating an anniversary nor is it currently seeing a major revival. However when something is this good, who needs a reason?
There’s gotta be something better than this? Highly doubtful.