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The musical melange of Barksdale's "Sweet Charity" is sure to satisfy a wide range of appetites.

How Sweet it Is

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If you don't like the mood created by director Randy Strawderman in the Barksdale Theatre's production of "Sweet Charity," just wait a few minutes and it'll change. The show travels a dramatic range from lurid tawdriness to romantic sweetness, with high-camp hijinks and "Cheers"-style chumminess thrown in for good measure. You might think this would induce theatrical whiplash. Instead, the variety of situations effectively illustrates how the sweet — but not so innocent — Charity Hope Valentine (Julie Fulcher) rises above whatever is going on around her. It also guarantees that there is something to please everyone in this invigorating and enthralling musical adventure.

It takes a uniquely self-assured actress to project perkiness and pluck no matter how bizarre the circumstances. As Charity, Fulcher is that actress and much more. She's blonde, leggy, and equipped with a twangy New Yawk voice that has a surprisingly amiable edge even when she's saying "Up yours!"

We first meet Charity at the Fandango Ballroom, where she works as a dance hall "hostess," swapping stories with the slinky cynical girls who are her co-workers. You can tell Charity is different from the others by the way she puts an implausibly hopeful spin on her latest romantic disaster. For Charity, misadventure is a way of life, often with positive results. Like when she runs into international film star Vittorio Vidal (Matt Mitchell) on the street and ends up spending a night in his penthouse. Or when she gets stuck in an elevator with painfully shy Oscar Lindquist (also played by Mitchell) and the two begin a cautious courtship. Suspense over whether Oscar will love Charity despite her sketchy past propels the action of the second act. What eventually happens plotwise is less interesting, however, than the entertaining avenues Strawderman chooses to take us down.

Supporting Fulcher is a chorus line chock-full of talent. Many of these actresses have made excellent leading ladies in the past, such as Petrina Jones(Theatre IV's Dorothy in last year's "Wizard of Oz") and Jennifer Frank (director and lead player for the Take 5 comedy troupe). Tanya Tatum and Jacqueline O'Conner play Charity's main sidekicks, and the black/white, tall/short dynamics of the two actresses turn them into a fabulous Mutt-and-Jeff vaudeville-style team. Accentuating the trashy seductiveness of the whole Fandango crew are eyepopping costumes by designer Robin Armstrong featuring a crassly colorful collection of lace-up leggings and skintight fabrics.

On the male side of the equation, Mitchell does impressive work in his drastically different roles. Vittorio was played by Ricardo Montalban in the movie version of "Sweet Charity," and Mitchell projects all the smooth smarminess of fine Corinthian leather. As Oscar, Mitchell's awkward naiveté is a perfect match for Fulcher's optimistic determination.

Familiar and flashy songs such as "Big Spender," "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and the rousing "Rhythm of Life" reveal the big-time Broadway spectacle that lies at the heart of this show. Strawderman and company have built a thoroughly modern crowd-pleaser around this powerful core. "Charity" may be sweet, but it's not just offering empty calories. It's a fun and fulfilling

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