The sneering headlines practically write themselves: Christina Applegate, née Kelly Bundy, plays golden-hearted hook — sorry, ”dance-hall hostess” — in revival of hopelessly dated 1966 Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields song-and-dance spectacular. Gets smarting reviews from out-of-town critics. Breaks foot. Show canceled. Raises cash, resurrects show herself. Vultures circle.
Well, if they could see her now. No, Applegate hasn’t quite internalized her choreography — in trickier sequences, there’s a hesitancy that verges on panic. And no, she’s not the most powerful singer (though, unlike some of her carpetbagging Hollywood colleagues, she is a singer). But — as previous Charitys Gwen Verdon, Shirley MacLaine, and Ann Reinking can tell you — this isn’t a role you sing, it’s a role you sell. And Applegate, bless her clearly visible heart, closes the deal. She’s perfectly winning, impossible not to love.
Shopworn yet naïve — not to mention dizzyingly prefeminist — Charity even manages to miss the hottest number in her own show. (That would be ”Big Spender,” which is staged, like everything else, in wan Fosse pastiche by choreographer Wayne Cilento — guy’s lucky to have an incandescent chorus boosting his low-wattage routines.) Our heroine’s busy getting screwed out of her hard-earned cash and harder-earned ardor by the latest in a series of parasitic skeevsters. But when she meets neurotic Oscar (Denis O’Hare) in a broken elevator, Charity blooms — and so does the production.
O’Hare, adding to the kooks gallery he’s already amassed with his intricately ticcy turns in last year’s Assassins and 2003’s Take Me Out, has officially cornered the Broadway market on dented, adorable weirdos. He absorbs the gag-omatic cleverness of Neil Simon’s book and rebroadcasts it as loopy but honest characterization. That he doesn’t steal the show from Applegate is a testament to her quietly formidable stage traction. Not bad for an actress who, like Charity, is always just a foot away from a fall. B