WFHS Theatre to perform ‘Sweet Charity’
The West Fargo High School theatre department is set to take the stage once again this weekend, performing the 1966 classic “Sweet Charity,” written by Neil Simon with a score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields.
According to director Adam Pankow, the theatre department chose this show to provide its students with a balance of opportunities after performing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in the fall.
“”That one was all about our men, and this show puts our women front and center,” Pankow said. “When choosing a season, this one made sense to spread out opportunities throughout the year.”
However, the content of the production still makes it a worthy addition to the department’s repertoire, and the fact that it is not one of the shows that everyone is familiar with provides another reason for the cast to participate and the audience to come and enjoy.
“This is a really fun piece,” Pankow said. “It’s a bit of a forgotten piece, but this was a giant hit in its day in 1966. I think it’s great to expose our students and our audiences to things that are a little off the beaten path once in a while.”
“Sweet Charity” follows the adventures of Charity Hope Valentine, a Times Square dime-a-dance girl who seems to give her heart and dreams to the wrong people. Throughout her personal trials and tribulations, Charity emerges unscathed while remaining determined to find love and happiness in swinging 1960s New York City.
“This is definitely a period piece, and it is really rooted in its historical context,” Pankow said. “It has been kind of fun to explore those things with this cast. I’m too young. I didn’t live in the ‘60s, but as we learn some things about what was happening in America at the time — the general outlook and optimism — those teaching moments have been really interesting, and to portray them in this way has been fun.”
While performing a renowned hit like “Joseph” in the fall provided the department with the challenge of making it a unique show for a crowd that has most likely seen a similar rendition, their winter show’s challenges are more established in its script and songs.
“Musically, this is probably one of the most difficult shows we have done, certainly for our orchestra members,” Pankow said. “This is complicated jazz music, with crazy incidentals all over the place. It is difficult music to play and to sing, because jazz isn’t always as predictable.”
“Sweet Charity” was actually a very influential piece when it first appeared on Broadway. It was the first show to feature electrical instruments, and it did some new and interesting things with its set.
“The show cinematically bridged the gap between the classic musicals like ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ which were very structured,” Pankow said. “It plays a bit with structure in how scenes shift and move, which was at the forefront of things that were about to come on Broadway. It is that weird middle ground of musical theatre where it is starting to put in some of the new, but has more than its fair share of nods and winks to the past.”
What Pankow enjoys about this show is that it provides his cast with a history lesson on a time that is not discussed at great lengths, specifically on the general attitude of Americans in the mid-1960s.
“Every play gives us an opportunity to travel thousands of miles away from West Fargo without leaving,” Pankow said. “In ‘66, we are after the JFK assassination, but before all of the civil rights stuff and before Martin Luther King’s assassination. This was a weird pocket in the ‘60s that is slightly optimistic but a little more cynical. You can see there is change on the way.”
Ultimately, “Sweet Charity” gives the theatre department — and its audience — a chance to have some fun.
“It is filled with song and dance, and lots of laughter. If they come into the show not realizing what the music is, they will go away saying ‘I didn’t know that song is from this show.’ They won’t want to miss this one.”
“Sweet Charity” will be performed on February 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and February 16 and 23 at
2:30 p.m. in the West Fargo High School auditorium.