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It may or may not surprise you, but I’m not particularly familiar with the television and film work of popular actress Molly Ringwald. Her appearance on “The New Mickey Mouse Club Show” at the tender age of age eight went totally unnoticed – I watched the original series way back in the late 1950s – and I vaguely remember her one season role in the comedy “The Facts of Life.” And to be totally honest, her teen movies of the 1980s – “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink” and “The Breakfast Club” – did not interest me at all.
So I approached her appearance in the musical “Sweet Charity,” now playing at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre, with equal amounts of skepticism and curiosity. Was Ringwald put in the show simply to sell tickets to a younger generation that seems to show little interest in theater, I wondered? Or does she really and truly have the chops to pull off the show’s lead role, that of unlucky-in-love dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine?
The answer, I believe, is a mixture of both. For in the audience on opening night was an oh-so slightly younger crowd than what usually attends an old-fashioned musical at the Fisher – which is a good thing, of course. And Ringwald somewhat surpassed my expectations as the star’s lead performer. (Her singing voice is generally suitable for the role, except when tunes such as “I’m a Brass Band” require her to stretch below and beyond her mid-range comfort zone, and her loosey-goosey dance skills stand in stark contrast to the polished moves happening all around her.)
But if this newspaper were to give out a Wilde Award for “Performer Who Best Commands the Stage,” Ringwald would win it hands down! That’s because you simply cannot take your eyes off this thoroughly charming actress whenever she’s on stage – no matter what’s going on around her.
The proof can be found in one of the musical’s funniest scenes: Charity, after going home one night with handsome Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal (excellently played by Aaron Ramey), is hiding in a small closet after his temperamental girlfriend Ursula (also nicely played by Jessica Leigh Brown) shows up to apologize for the fight they had earlier that evening. During the reunited couple’s musical number, Ramey and Brown could have stripped naked and had wild passionate sex – and no one except a stagehand or two would have noticed; everyone’s eyes were riveted on Ringwald and her well-executed Lucy Ricardo-like antics. And rarely did she allow us to look anywhere else except at HER throughout the entire show!
Surrounding Ringwald is a talented and energetic cast of performers with great voices and slick dance skills. Guy Adkins, as the nerdy accountant, Oscar, who falls in love with Charity, is a joy to watch. His very physical scene trapped in an elevator with Charity is another show highlight.
And all the dance hall girls and gentlemen customers at Club Fandango are hot, sexy and delightful to watch.
Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tue.-Sun., through May 20. Tickets: $38-$78. For information: 313-872-1000 or http://www.broadwayindetroit.com