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Theatre / Sweet Charity

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Sweet Charity is a 1966 musical with book by Neil Simon based on the Federico Fellini film Nights of Cabiria, score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, originally directed by Bob Fosse and starring Gwen Verdon. It tells the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a romantic dance hall hostess looking for love in all the wrong places, and how she eventually finds it—and loses it. The play is considered a classic example of Fosse's direction and style of dance, and some of the numbers (e.g. "Big Spender" and "Rich Man's Frug") are some of the best examples of Fosse style dance.

A film adaptation, directed by Fosse and starring Shirley MacLaine, was released in 1969.

Sweet Charity provides examples of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: The play and film lack the Downer Ending from the source Fellini film, in which the protagonist's lover steals all her savings and leaves her penniless. Instead, Oscar chucks Charity in the lake but does not steal her stuff. Instead we get a wistful, hopeful Fairy Tale ending.
  • Blatant Lies: Judging by the expressions of the singers, every line of "Big Spender".
    The minute you walked in the joint
    I could see you were a man of distinction
    A real big spender
    Good lookin' so refined
  • Dark Reprise: "Baby, Dream Your Dream" starts out with Nikki and Helene mocking Charity's optimism, but then they reveal that they would love to have someone to love them.
  • Did Not Get The Guy: Charity. And she came so close! The circumstances change depending on which ending the production you see is using (there are three) but the fact is, Oscar and Charity do not wind up together. However, the Revised Ending had Charity and Oscar giving it a chance.
  • Dull Surprise:
    • Justified in "Big Spender", as the dance hall girls act as mechanically as possible, while flatly spouting tired sexual euphemisms — the only hint of passion is when the Big Spender enters, and when they extinguish their cigarettes.
      Dance hall girl: Ooo, you're so tall!
    • Also Justified in the "The Aloof" portion of the "Rich Man's Frug".
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Charity and Oscar spend hours trapped in an elevator together while Oscar has a nervous breakdown and Charity has to attempt to calm him. They leave the elevator already a little bit in love!
  • First Kiss: Played with. At the end of Charity and Oscar's first date, they stand together awkwardly and a sign (in the original production) lights up saying 'The First Kiss!' It doesn't happen.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Charity, Nicki, Helene and all the girls in the dance hall. Very few of them seem to be actually prostitutes (Charity specifically says all she sells is her time); they all still are caring people, especially prevalent in the "I love to cry at weddings" scene.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Oscar is too shy to kiss Charity goodbye, so he kisses her hand. Charity thinks it's adorable. Her friends think it's a bit odd.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: "Rhythm of Life". What exactly does this scene have to do with the plot? Nothing. Is it awesome? HELL YES.
  • "I Want" Song: "Big Spender", of course. "There's Got To Be Something Better Than This" is a straightforward I Want Song, "Baby Dream Your Dream" is a bittersweet example, and "If My Friends Could See Me Now" can be considered an I Want as well.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Charity's main problem. She wants love and happiness, but she's a poor judge of character and the men she latches onto don't really care about her.
    Helene: You run your heart like a hotel. You got guys checking in and out all the time.
  • Meaningful Name: "Sweet Charity" is a slang term for a prostitute who gives it away for love instead of money.
  • Meet Cute: Charity and Oscar meet in an elevator that gets stuck between floors.
  • Music for Courage: Charity and Oscar sing "I'm The Bravest Individual" when they're trapped in an elevator together. It doesn't do much for them.
  • Original Cast Precedent: Bob Fosse decided Gwen Verdon would wear a Little Black Dress for the whole show, just because he liked the way she looked in it. Said dress has subsequently become the standard Charity costume. She'll occasionally wear red for her scenes in the dance hall, but other than that, you'd be hard pressed to find a Charity who doesn't wear the black dress for at least a few scenes.
  • Pair the Spares: Doesn't actually happen, but Nicki lampshades it.
    Nicki I could marry Herman—
    Helene: And be permanently sorry!
    Nicki and Herman: We would make a really lousy pair.
  • The Pollyanna: Charity herself. She loses everything in one day when her husband leaves her, and yet skips off alone, saying, "There's always tomorrow."
  • Parody: "Rich Man's Frug" is a Take That! to a popular dance craze of The '60s, which also explains the Fun with Subtitles.
  • Pop Culture Osmosis: Both "Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now" quickly found themselves used in commercials, parodies, and so on.
  • Quirky Girl, Quirky Tux: Downplays the trope by having Charity perform "If They Could See Me Now" with a top hat and cane, but a mini-dress. Bob Fosse seems fond of this trope, putting quirky lead females in the tux with tights outfit for a dance number.
  • Rewritten Pop Version: Barbra Streisand's rendition of "Where Am I Going?" changed the line "Run to the Bronx, or Washington Square" to "Run where it's foul, run where it's fair."
  • Scam Religion: The Rhythm of Life Church is a scam. It was supposedly founded at the urging of a mysterious Voice:
    And the voice said, "Brother, there's a million pigeons
    Ready to be hooked on new religions."
  • Spiritual Successor: "Rich Man's Frug" is this to "Rich Kids' Rag," a similar number Bob Fosse and Cy Coleman had done in their musical Little Me four years earlier.
  • Survival Mantra: Charity invokes this with "I'm the Bravest Individual" by encouraging Oscar to repeat to himself that he is brave, in order to calm him down. Some productions also have Charity reprise said song at the end to boost her confidence after she and Oscar break up.
  • Title Drop: It's Oscar's nickname for Charity.
    Oscar: You're a great girl, Charity. Sweet Charity.
  • To Be Continued: A "TO BE CONTINUED" sign appears at the moment of Pseudo-Crisis that ends the first act.
  • Working Class Anthem: In "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This", the taxi dancers dream of getting out of the business. Subverted in that the lives they dream about end up being menial jobs.
  • Wrong Guy First: Charity goes on a date with movie star Vittorio Vidal, and it's set up as if he is going to be the love interest of the musical. Sure, we've seen worse. But Charity winds up convincing Vittorio to go back to his girlfriend Ursula, and spends the night in a closet while Vittorio and Ursula make love. She leaves with nothing but his autograph and a hat and cane.

Tropes unique to the 1969 film:

  • Revised Ending: Bob Fosse shot a completely different denouement for the film adaptation just in case Universal execs objected to it ending on a down note. In it, Charity and Oscar reunite. The U.S. release version of the film uses the original ending, but perhaps because it flopped at the box office, Universal recut it for its international release and used this revised ending instead. (It is a bonus feature on the DVD release.)