Stepping Out

A sweet time with "Sweet Charity" at Madison Theatre


“If they could see me now, that little gang of mine ...”

Audiences at the Madison Theatre can see “her” now, as Madison Theatre Productions brings the iconic musical “Sweet Charity” to its stage this weekend, May 31 to June 2.

The “her,” of course, is Charity, the exuberant gal desperately seeking love in 1960s New York City. The award-winning show, with the legendary Bob Fosse’s captivating choreography, is brought to life by director Angelo Fraboni — the Madison Theatre’s artistic director — with a cast of young actors honing their craft at Molloy University’s renowned Cap21 Musical Theatre Conservatory.

With a name like Charity Hope Valentine, it comes as no surprise that this sassy, diehard romantic dance hall hostess’s naivety and overeager embrace of every man she meets keeps getting her in hot water, in her search for sweet romance.

“She just wants to be loved,” Fraboni says. “She finds love, and then it doesn’t find her, but she still stays optimistic.”

Charity, played by rising senior Avery Bank, crosses paths with Oscar Lindquist, a square and claustrophobic accountant with a sweet nature and a gentle touch, played by 2024 graduate Riley Brennan, of Merrick. A budding romance between the two develops.

Written by Neil Simon and based on Federico Fellini’s film “Nights of Cabiria,” the star of the show truly is the choreography. Fosse staged and choreographed the musical for Gwen Verdon, his third wife, who took on the role of Charity in the original 1966 Broadway production. And, of course, there are those classic musical numbers: “Big Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “I’m a Brass Band” and “Baby, Dream Your Dream.”

“It was sort of (Fosse’s) love story for his wife. He built it for her,” Fraboni explains.

Since its debut, the musical has been nominated for 16 Tony Awards and has won four, including Best Musical Revival in 1986. This is the first time Fraboni has staged the musical at the Madison Theatre. It speaks to him as a universal story of trying to achieve your dreams.

“What the journey is in the show, everyone has been through in their own lives and seen it, experienced it. I think it’ll really resonate with them,” he says.

Audiences move through the many realms of 1960s Manhattan: from the broken-down dance halls to Central Park to New York City’s subway system.

“It goes from playful to sensual, to aristocratic, to hippie,” Fraboni adds.

It’s also considered an homage to many ‘60s artists and personalities of the day, among them Andy Warhol and Gloria Steinem. Through its popularity, the musical has become a cultural reference in its own right, according to Fraboni.

For the 24 actors in the cast — their first contracted performance — this production is an important first step in their budding professional life.

“It’s a really cool show. Actually, it’s been one of my personal favorites for a long time,” Brennan says, of his role as Oscar. “It’s a bit niche, but I like the togetherness of everything — the music, the dancing. Oscar is a really fun, weird part.”

While the musical numbers are big, the story itself is simple.

“It’s not very grand, but it has grand moments.It’s intimate in what Charity’s going for, what she wants, what she’s striving for and how she’s facing so much. We’re rooting for her,” Brennan says.

The dance sequences ­­— choreographed by Bethany Moore, the Madison Theatre’s assistant director — are an ode to Fosse’s signature jazz style.

As Fraboni put it: “It’s ‘Fosse-esque.’ very distinct and stylized. It’s maximum effect with minimal movement. There’s a lot of humor and funny bits in the choreography because it is a comedy.”

While this is tale about love, it’s also a story that relates to the strength and courage of 1960s women coming into their own. Female empowerment, you might say.

“This is the sort of musical where women take back the power from men and take control over their own lives,” Fraboni adds.

Moreover, it’s about hope.

“Life is hard,” he says. “I want people to walk away knowing that they saw a wonderful, heartfelt production that leaves them with hope.”