Lily Tomlin's fresh-mouthed 5-year-old alter-ego Edith Ann and
''Three's Company's'' ditsy blonde bombshell Chrissy lies Elle Barks'
Charity Hart Valentine, the perky protagonist of
Pennsylvania Playhouse's ''Sweet Charity.'' Barks brings wholesome
charm -- and breathless euphoria -- to the role of the dance hall
hostess with big dreams.
Though the young
Muhlenberg College dance and theater major lacks the stamina to
effectively belt ''If They Could See Me Now'' while frolicking
athletically, she delivers the show's comic hits with delicious flair.
Whether falling out of a closet, getting knocked flat by pedestrians
or plummeting into an off-stage lake, Barks' forte is her physical
humor, and the show's patter slides off her tongue with ease.
A potpourri of characters share the stage with Barks, from petite,
lollipop-licking subway passengers to a bevy of mostly older-but-wiser
dance hall girls. The dance hall's ''golden girls'' are a treat,
serving up a deadpan ''Big Spender'' with a heavy side of sarcasm. Ann
Marie Squerrini, with her New Yawk flava, is a scene stealer as
Charity's best friend Nickie. Matthew Walczer delights as romantic
Hollywood has-been Vittorio Vidal. Golden-voiced Troy Cooper is a
perfectly geeky Oscar Lindquist, the neurotic nerd who falls for
Charity before handing her another romantic disappointment.
''Rhythm of Life'' is performed with over-the-top groove by Traci
Ceschin as Mama Brubeck. Paired with far-out assistants Kerry McGuire
and Fred Broadbent and retro dancers, the energetic number is a high
point. Several scenes slow things down, however, including the endless
end of Act One in which Charity and Oscar are stuck in an elevator.
Director Bill Mutimer's choreography is delightful, and music director
Larry Bachtall's virtual orchestra is surprisingly effective. It might
have been fun to spotlight Bachtall's computerized keyboard wizardry
nearer to the stage rather than behind the audience.
''Sweet Charity,'' 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through
Oct. 19, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Illick's Mill Road, Bethlehem.
Tickets: $20; $17, seniors and students (Fridays, Saturdays only).
Diana Morse is a freelance writer.