Review: ‘Charity’ packs solid tunes, moves and comedy

Penn State Centre Stage’s rendering of the musical classic “Sweet Charity” carries all of the elements that made the initial show a smash hit.

Under the direction of Erin Farrell Speer, this collection of 24 mostly undergraduate students in Penn State’s School of Theatre pull together the steps, voices and timing to bring Neil Simon’s book, Cy Coleman’s music and Dorothy Fields’ lyrics to vibrant life.

Set in the mid-’60s in Manhattan, Charity, a girl vainly searching for love where she works in a dance hall, is teased by her lady co-workers, who are convinced she won’t find a genuine relationship.

Morgan Hecker as Charity yields up just the right melding of spunk, life-jaded experience and a touch of hope to carry the viewer’s heart along with her.

Joseph Allen, as Charity’s would-be beau, Oscar, is funny, genuine and pulls off some great physical comedy. Especially good is a segment where the two are trapped in an elevator. Hecker and Allen work strong chemistry, too.

Nickie and Helene, played by Maria Wirries and Jessica Ortiz, are strong supporting characters, and duet smoothly in “Baby, Dream Your Dream.”

Songs that “Charity” first-timers are likely to recognize include “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” but there are many other good numbers.

Denzel Deangelo Fields is mesmerizing as head of the lively street church thriving under the Manhattan Bridge. A few of the sung phrases here were hard to follow, but the sound was generally clear and strong.

When at last Oscar has the composure to propose to Charity, all seems to fall together toward a happily ever after, until Simon’s story thread sifts in a touch of reality, upends expectations and gifts Charity with a sort of prescient women’s liberation sendoff.

Alison Morooney’s choreography keeps the action sharp and fun, backed by a lively set (by Amanda Stuart) that employs throwback art and decor in broad ’60s style and colors. The costumes by Richard St. Clair evoke the lighthearted, upbeat era with bright swaths and combinations of prints and solids.

The notes emanating from the 16-piece live orchestra, directed by Chris Rayis, effectively cavorted and danced with the songs and players.