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April 13, 2007

Three for the Aisle

Roy Meachum

Molly Ringwald as 'Charity Hope Valentine'

We deal today with the bloody, bloody Bard, a movie's intellectual jokes and pranks, and the welcome return of a musical from Broadway's Bob Fosse-Golden age.

SWEET CHARITY: In Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre, Molly Ringwald plays "Sweet Charity," a hooker disguised for mid-20th century audiences as a dance hall hostess, with the usual heart of gold. She sells her charms and body while on the outlook for Mr. Right.

More important than the storyline, however, are songs like "Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now." They have gained the stature of American musical standards. The rest of the songs lend considerable speed to the evening's progress; they are that good.

Knowing the Cy Coleman score and Dorothy Fields' sophisticated lyrics, I naturally wondered how Miss Ringwald's voice would hold up. I knew her only from teen-age films. The answer landed with a bang: The sometime film actress wrapped up the music and words, put 'em in her pocket and strutted away with the evening. How was her dancing? Just fine.

Choreographer Wayne Cilento created steps and movement that kept his star in step with an energy-charged gang of gypsies, New York theatrical lingo for dancers, led by Amanda Watkins and Francesca Harper. Mr. Cilento's handiwork had much to do with the Hippodrome success.

Director Scott Earls keeps the pace on pace in the model fashioned by Walter Bobbie, who staged this revival of a work I once saw roughly 40 years back. That was the original production created for dancer Gwen Verdon by her lover-husband Bob Fosse; they're both gone now.

If you don't know Bob Fosse's name you weren't paying attention; the former dancer owned the Great White Way for quite a spell. He won, in a single year, the big three: the theatre's Tony, for "Pippin," television's Emmy, for "Liza with a Z," and the movies' Oscar for "Cabaret."

Mr. Fosse's genius created "Sweet Charity," based incidentally on a work by another genius, Italian Federico Fellini. In the book Charity walked the streets of Rome. Writer Neil "Doc" Simon moved her to New York and sanitized the image for puritanical America, which the country still was. For the most part, in any event.

Whatever's happening in your life: do ride, run or walk to Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre before "Sweet Charity" bumps and grinds out of town in about 10 days.

Sam Tsoutsouvas in the title role in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, directed by Gale Edwards. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

TITUS ANDRONICUS: Early on the road to becoming the great playwright, Shakespeare used violence to sell tickets. But even with bodies falling all over the stage, "Titus Andronicus" suggests the character development and lyricism that mark his entire body of works.

"Titus" was, according to scholars, the Bard of Avon's very first tragedy; only a very cheap shooter would say "it shows." In more years of regarding Shakespeare than I have hairs on my head, I've never seen this work staged. Perhaps because today's producers are unwilling to forebear the criticism aimed their way; I don't know.

But in the Washington Shakespeare Theatre's long life, this is the first time, I am told, when this play about sanguinary revenge has ever appeared under Artistic Director Michael Kahn's banner.

Mr. Kahn is, by the way, the talent who came up with the concept of all Washington's major theatrical venues coming together to celebrate the Bard. He stages "Hamlet" when "Titus Andronicus" hauls away his buckets of blood.

But until May 20, Gale Edwards runs the show; she was brought in to stage the mass taking of life and limbs that Shakespeare conceived for this tale about how war hero Andronicus was deceived by his chosen Caesar.

Sam Tsoutsouvas has the lead. His Titus suffers mightily because of the intrigues of Tamora, queen of the Goths. His big crime? Offering her son up in ritual, thanking the gods for his victory against her Goths. She flatly murders most of his sons left; 24 of them - we are told - died in the recent war. Throw in the queen's Moor lover and the gang rape and blinding of Titus' daughter, leading up to a last scene where characters drop like flies.

This is not a pretty act of stagecraft but it does keep the audience's blood hopping. That's plenty. The Shakespeare Theatre Company holds forth on Washington's 7th Street, and "Titus Andronicus" will last until May 20, if the blood holds out.

GRINDHOUSE: You may have heard praise for the movie "Grindhouse." Don't believe it.

The so-called double feature flounders on the two directors' self conceit. And at three hours, the film is long enough to bring depression to anyone holding tickets.

Quinton "Sin City" Tarantino and Robert "Kill Bill" Rodriguez own respectable reputations in Hollywood; they were able to lure to "Grindhouse" both Nick Cage and Kurt Russell. I'm sure Hollywood's "in" circle thought this one was a real giggle. I didn't.

Mr. Tarantino and Ruth McGowan popped up in each segment of this film they say was inspired by old-time double features. Well, I remember double features. And neither flick bears the slightest resemblance to what we paid 10 cents for.

"Grindhouse" is worth neither your time nor money. It may have been once a good idea, but it's been reduced to little more than little boys' sex and games.

Ach, pfui!

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