Musical Theatre Southwest was seeking what director Robb Sisneros said was a “strong triple threat” for the lead in its production of “Sweet Charity.” It opens tonight at the African American Performing Arts Center.
“I was amazed at the talent of the actresses who came out for the role,” Sisneros said.
One of those auditioning for the part of Charity was Stephanie Burch.
The triple artistic challenges attracted rather than deterred Burch to try out. An additional incentive was her adoration of Bob Fosse, who directed and choreographed the 1966 stage production of “Sweet Charity” and the 1969 film version.
Burch got her wish. She landed the part.
“We narrowed it down to Stephanie pretty early in the second day (of auditions),” Sisneros said, “and we started building the ensemble around her.”
But Burch has had quite a workout preparing for the role. Sure, she and the other cast members have been rehearsing three hours a night for five, six days a week for more than six weeks.
“I never leave the stage,” Burch said.”And Charity never stops talking. She’s the kind of character who says whatever comes to her mind.”
Her character is singing 10 numbers, five of them solos.
Burch said the acting requires comedic timing.
Her preparations for the role of Charity goes far beyond time spent at rehearsals or at home memorizing lines. She’s been working out at a gym under the guidance of a personal trainer.
“Mostly what I had to do was more cardio to be able to sing and dance, building up my physical endurance,” Burch said. “I’ve worked out seven days a week for at least an hour a day.”
She multitasks while working out on a treadmill or stair-stepper, reading her lines off the printed page at the same time that she’s listening to a recording of them.
“It’s a huge commitment. I knew it would be, but the part, being the triple threat that she is, I absolutely love doing it,” Burch said.
The musical is about Charity’s search for one true love. Charity – her full name is Charity Hope Valentine – is the eternal optimist despite her bad luck with men.
She’s a dancer for hire in a dance hall and is struggling to get out of that line of work. Charity dreams of marrying and having a family.
Sisneros said Fosse conceived the show as a vehicle for his wife, Gwen Verdon, and for his choreography. Verdon starred in the Broadway production but Shirley MacLaine portrayed Charity in the film.
Larry Aguilar, the choreographer for the MTS production, said the production has “a Fosse style to it” but it has his own imprint, which he said is more of a modern feel.
“It’s pretty much my choreography. For her first number Stephanie did the choreography with me. I let her do what she felt she needed to do with that number,” Aguilar said.
“That number determines her character. So we did it together. The rest is my original.”
The Broadway production received 12 Tony nominations. Cy Coleman wrote the music and Dorothy Fields the lyrics. Playwright Neil Simon wrote the book.