Theater & Dance
"Sweet Charity"

By: Book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, based on screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Plaiano
Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Erica Wyman-Abrahamson
Choreographed by: Alex Hsu
Music direction by: Rick Reynolds
Vocal direction by: Tracy Chiappone
Featuring: Monique Hafen, Caitlin O'Leary, Alicia Gangi, Adam Flowers, David Blackburn, John Rinaldi, Lawrence-Michael C. Arias, Jessica Maxey, Sara Ris, Christine Bake, Rebecca Carteris, Alyson Chilton, Paige Collazo, Brigitte Losey, Stephanie Renee Maysonave, Cheryl Ringman, Rachel Young, Nicholas Garland, Doug Greer, Ron Lopez Jr., Brad Satterwhite, Clint Williams
When: May 5-29, 2016
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City
Tickets: $25-$48. Call 1-650-340-6411, extension 2, or visit

Monique Hafen
Mark Kitoaka / Hillbarn Theatre
Monique Hafen chews a sandwich while listening to Vittorio Vidal and his mistress, in "Sweet Charity," playing at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, May 5-29, 2016. The bandage on Hafen's left leg is from an injury received in rehearsal.
If you could see her now,
you'd love Monique Hafen
She is absolutely fabulous in the title role
of 'Sweet Charity' at Hillbarn Theatre
May 11, 2016

Monique Hafen is fabulous in the title role of "Sweet Charity" at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City.

Sure, she's pretty, and can dance and sing. That much is true of every woman in this huge cast.

What makes her special is her actor's commitment to the role, and her powerful stage charisma.

All eyes are on this slender, petite blonde as she brings Neil Simon's big-hearted, generous, all-too-trusting taxi dancer to life.

In every moment, she is Sweet Charity.

Charity Hope Valentine doesn't just wear her heart on her sleeve, she wears it tattooed on her arm — which was more unusual in 1966, when this musical opened on Broadway in 1966, with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields.

The show opens with Charity mooning about Charlie, singing about how handsome he is, but he steals her purse and shoves her in a Central Park lake. She goes back to work at the Fandango Ballroom, where we get to hear one of this show's few really memorable songs, "Big Spender," as the hostesses try to get men to pay them to — at the very least — dance with them.

Monique Hafen
Tracy Martin / Hillbarn Theatre
Monique Hafen in the title role of "Sweet Charity."

Later, we see hungry Charity mindlessly give away all her money to street beggars. She meets a big-deal movie star, Vittorio Vidal, who is having an argument with his mistress, and goes to a nightclub with him, where we see the ensemble dance "Rich Man's Frug," which is fab.

The Broadway production was directed and choreographed by the great Bob Fosse, and I can only guess that this production's choreographer, Alex Hsu, borrowed from what Fosse did. Certainly "Rich Man's Frug" is a stunning number, and it is no small accomplishment for anyone involved. Wow.

Charity faints from hunger and is brought to Vidal's apartment, where she sings another of this show's most-known songs, "If My Friends Could See Me Now." Charity attempts but fails to seduce him, then is shoved in a closet, where she drinks a beer, eats a sandwich, smokes a cigarette, and listens as Vidal makes love with his returned mistress. Funny stuff.

Vidal is played by Adam Flowers, an actual opera singer, who demonstrates some fabulous pipes on "Too Many Tomorrows."

And then it is on to the meet-cute with Oscar Lindquist, a tragically neurotic tax accountant played by David Blackburn.

Blackburn is amazing. In this show he has the aw-shucks handsomeness of a young James Stewart, although he ends up being ... not a good person. At least he doesn't steal Charity's purse. Back in September 2015 he was brilliantly funny as Hero in "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum," also at Hillbarn, and it's likely we are always going to want to see this tall, skinny guy perform.

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Also in this excellent cast is Alicia Gangi, as Nickie the taxi dancer, who was also in that production of in "Forum."

Even the ensemble in this show deserves attention. Ron Lopez Jr., for instance, another "Forum" vet, who is always fun to watch, partly because of his very flexible face and his excellent voice. Jessica Maxey is wonderful to watch, with a kind of Liza Minelli look and her very own talent and beauty; when she is not on stage, she is a doctoral student in electrical engineering at Stanford. John Rinaldi is a great voice and presence. Clint Williams, who was excellent in "Angels in America" at Foothill Theatre and hilarious in "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" at Los Altos Stage Company, is a fun presence here. Lawrence-Michael C. Arias is energizing as Daddy Brubeck, head of the Rhythm of Life Church — which Oscar found through his membership in the church-of-the-month club.

I very much liked most of Kuo-Hao Lo's scenic design, especially the clever art deco touches.

Valerie Emmi's costume design was terrific, at least for the ensemble. 1960s-era minidresses, African-hippy outfits, black body suits with big red hearts on the chest and pill-box hats — great fun. But why was Charity in only one outfit? A simple, red shift. True, Hafen looked all kinds of sexy in it ... but the story of the show stretches over weeks. That's all she has to wear?

Rick Reynolds conducted an excellent orchestra, which was stuck behind a black plywood wall a level over the audience. Director Erica Wyman-Abrahamson keeps things moving at a sprightly pace.

Email John Orr at

Blackburn, Hafen
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
David Blackburn as Oscar, left, and Monique Hafen in the title role of "Sweet Charity," playing at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, May 5- 29, 2016.
Lawrence-Michael Arias
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Lawrence-Michael Arias as Daddy Brubeck, head of the Rhythm of Life Church, in "Sweet Charity," playing at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, May 5-29, 2016.