Southeast Missouri State University students perform "Sweet Charity" at Bedell

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Valentine's Day may be over, but love is still in the air with the production of "Sweet Charity," a musical about love and eternal optimism personified by Charity Hope Valentine.

Charity is a taxi dancer, a woman who dances with men for money. "Sweet Charity" is based on the movie "Nights of Calabria," where the girls were prostitutes. Some claim taxi dancers were an early form of strippers and prostitutes, but they weren't necessarily expected to go further than the dance floor.

"Some of them do extracurricular activities," said Dr. Kenneth L. Stilson, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Southeast Missouri State University. "Charity, it's clearly laid out, does not."

Stilson, who's directing the play, said it's not a show for all ages, but teens and mature younger children could handle it.

"There's no nudity, but there's a lot of innuendo. It doesn't even come close to prime-time TV," he said.

The cast of "Sweet Charity" rehearses a number Sunday at Bedell Performance Hall.

The play by Neil Simon features music and lyrics by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields and was originally choreographed by Bob Fosse.

"We tend to do a large musical each year," Stilson said. "But none of them have been bigger than 'Sweet Charity.'"

This musical has 50 people onstage and countless more working behind the scenes on lighting, sound and costumes. Southeast faculty, staff and students made nearly 250 costumes for the show. Scenic and costume designer Rhonda Weller-Stilson used pieces the department already had and scoured vintage clothing shops to get bright colors and busy patterns reminiscent of the hippie days in the 1960s.

Charity was based on a Charlie Chaplain character to personify a happy-go-lucky optimism.

"She finds love and she gets knocked down and she always gets up again," Stilson said.

Freshman Phil Newman plays Oscar, Charity's main love interest. Newman came to Southeast when a friend praised the theater program.

"Oscar is kind of nervous nelly," Newman said, explaining that the he bites his nails, counts his steps and is claustrophobic.

Through dating Charity, Oscar calms down, but in the end his nerves get the best of him and he decides he cannot marry a taxi dancer because of the negative connotations.

"The final scene is a test of Charity's optimism," Newman said.

"Sweet Charity" starts 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Bedell Performance Hall and runs through March 1. Tickets are $17 and $19 at the River Campus box office, 651-2265, MetroTix outlets, or 800-293-5949.

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