‘Sweet Charity’ gets a youthful take

03/07/2013 3:50 PM

08/08/2014 10:33 AM

“Sweet Charity,” the Neil Simon hit of the 1960s, is playing this weekend at Century II. But unlike many shows at the venue, this one features an all-teen cast. Music Theatre for Young People is putting on this much-loved musical.

After 23 years, Music Theatre for Young People continues to produce plays with cast members that range in age from 7 to 18. The 22-member cast for “Sweet Charity” comes from many local high schools, including Maize, Derby and Andover. The male lead, Noah Montgomery, attends Kapaun Mount Carmel High School.

Allysa Hershey, a sophomore at Northwest High School, will play the charismatic title role of Charity Hope Valentine. The 16-year-old has performed with the group since she was 7.

“Charity is really fun to play,” Hershey said. “She’s kind of naive and ditsy.”

Based loosely on Italian director Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria,” “Sweet Charity” explores an optimistic young dance-hall performer’s relationship challenges. “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now” are musical hits from this 12-time Tony Award-nominated play.

“Charity represents young women who are trying to find a path,” Mary Lou Phipps-Winfrey, the play’s director, said. “Sometimes paths are blocked.”

The cast members, several of whom play four characters, are busy changing in and out of 1960s-era sweaters and beads and moving from apartments to dance floors as the 15-set locales rotate.

“We want to keep the piece moving,” Phipps-Winfrey, a local actor and director, said.

Although her role is demanding, Hershey, who has acted in more than two dozen Music Theatre for Young People productions, said she enjoys every minute in the theater.

“It’s like home here,” she said. “Missing a show here is really sad for me. I make new friends every show.”

The feeling of comfort and comradery is what Music Theatre for Young People’s new executive director, Angela Hill, is hoping to continue.

“I love working with students and sharing my passion for the arts,” she said.

Hill, who also runs a successful performing arts company in Texas, was hired on in a part-time capacity. She brings with her years of theater and dance experience along with a master’s degree in exercise physiology and an almost completed Master of Fine Arts. Along with her expertise, Hill brings her enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

Next season, the company plans to produce shows that they have not produced before. They also will reduce the number of shows they produce from four to three and have a short break between shows so cast members can rejuvenate for the next production.

“The shows will be upbeat and high-energy,” Hill said. “We want to create newness.”

Along with two summer camps, the company is reaching out to local organizations. This summer, they’ll begin with workshops for the Girl Scouts.

“Through the productions, the performers meet wonderful friends,” Hill said. “They trade memories and find a new love: theater.”

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