Charlotte Sweet was the toast of NYC’s Off Broadway scene in the early 1980s. “‘Charlotte Sweet, the new musical at the Chernuchin Theater takes place in a British music hall; it is also done in the style of the British music hall, more or less as if the Crummles from ”Nicholas Nickleby” had stumbled onto the set of Sweeney Todd. Charlotte Sweet mixes the adorable and the strange, and it is delectable.” -John Corry, New York Times. To get rolling, order a perusal copy and discover the lunatic and marvelous world of Charlotte Sweet, the vivacious Victorian high soprano, who helps the Circus of Voices escape the clutches of their nefarious impresario (with his evil helium balloons) in this tuneful trip back to the world of the English music hall.
An ensemble of music hall performers gather to enact “The Story of Charlotte Sweet” (At The Music Hall). In turn-of-the-20th-century England, we meet Charlotte Sweet, the darling of Liverpool (Charlotte Sweet). Charlotte attributes her sweetness to being born on Valentine’s Day. Charlotte’s beau is the equally cute Ludlow Ladd Grimble, who, coincidentally, was born on Christmas. Exchanging keepsakes, Charlotte gives her sweetheart a heart-shaped locket, while Ludlow give Charlotte a Christmas bûche—i.e. log cake—from the bakery where he works. They pledge to love each other “Forever”. Afterwards, they join their neighbors to admire the “Liverpool Sunset”. Meanwhile at home, Charlotte’s poor mother—a chronic shiverer—has suffocated under the massive “Layers Of Underwear” it took to warm her. The chilly details are recounted by Charlotte’s father, Bob Sweet, and the evil visitors, Barnaby and Katinka Bugaboo. Barnaby is the impresario of a music-hall troupe featuring Katinka, his buxom wife. The couple has arrived to collect on Bob’s debts, incurred from the tremendous cost of his late wife’s underwear. Bob backs up the Bugaboos’ proposal that they liquidate all debts if Charlotte joins their troupe, and Charlotte reluctantly consents (Quartet Agonistes). Barnaby is particularly pleased since he has a secret lust for the thrush (Forever reprise).
Next we meet Barnaby’s freaky music-hall troupe: “The Circus Of Voices”. In addition to the high-voiced Charlotte and the low-voiced Katinka, the Circus features: Cecily MacIntosh—a rippling “bubble voice,” who is also wardrobe mistress; Skitzy Scofield—a schizophrenic “double voice,” half high-born gentlewoman, half Cockney rogue; and Harry Host (Michael McCormick)—a “fast voice,” who serves as emcee of festivities. As this third-class troupe tours the lonely circuit of Britain, Charlotte ultimate steals the show with her coloratura. During a performance, Ludlow waits backstage, only to be kicked out by Barnaby. When the troupe takes a backstage break, Barnaby raves about Charlotte, provoking Katinka to make jealous remarks. Cecily defends the girl, and Skitzy’s two voices argue over her merits. The troupers continue their show. Katinka sings “Keep It Low”, in which she details her lowly ways. Cecily convulses through “Bubbles In Me Bonnet:, in which her effervescence matches her bubble voice. Harry performs “Vegetable Reggie”, in which he reveals a ribaldry as “fast” as his tongue. Skitzy demonstrates her dual personality in “My Baby And Me”, duetting and dancing with herself.
Lastly, a nervous Charlotte tops the night with “A-Weaving”, in which she sings of a lass sacrificing her life for the sake of her “looming” talents. Charlotte rises to fame “a-weaving” sizeable success for the Circus of Voices. However, doing six shows a night takes its toll. Charlotte has a vocal breakdown and loses her high note. The Bugaboos concoct a cunning scheme to restore Charlotte’s upper register: they addict her to helium balloons (Your High Note). Barnaby is delirious, for now nothing can hinder his own rise from shabby origins to shimmering evil heights (Katinka/The Darkness). As Act 1 concludes, he dangles a helium balloon in front of the totally dependent Charlotte.
It is December 31, and the Bugaboos have enlisted the guard duties of a whistling, Scotland Yard bobby, Patrick O’Toole (You See In Me A Bobby). To distract him from noticing Charlotte’s balloon habit, the Bugaboos invite Patrick to actually perform in their troupe. Cecily, Harry, and Skitzy share Charlotte’s delight as she opens a gift and discovers “A Christmas Bûche” from Ludlow. A message is inside describing his vain attempts to visit Charlotte (The Letter). Charlotte invites her friends to flee with her whenever Ludlow shows up. They refuse, as Skitzy divulges the trio’s dark secret: the Bugaboos found the trio in a madhouse in Dover, where they’d be returned if they misbehaved. Skitzy, Harry, and Charlotte also have second thoughts as to whether Charlotte could ever escape from the Bugaboos (Volley Of Indecision). Still, the ever-optimistic Cecily cheers the air, reassuring Charlotte that “Good Things Come” to the deserving.
The entire Circus of Voices prepares for its New Year’s Eve performance. Peeking at the audience, Patrick develops stage jitters. But Skitzy, Cecily, and Harry calm him as they segue into their next number, a comment on the audience out front (It Could Only Happen In The Theatre). As Charlotte is about to go on, the Bugaboos crush her hopes of escape and feed her a gigantic whiff of helium. Charlotte drifts on-stage to chant, “I’m Only A Lonely Canary”.” Her rendition is a triumph. Backstage, she and the Bugaboos receive the ultimate honor: they are visited by England’s Queen. The Queen showers Charlotte with praise (Queenly Comments), requesting to be left alone with Charlotte and—for protection—Patrick.
The Queen (Surprise! Surprise!) takes off her outer garments and turns out to be Ludlow. Patrick slaps his beard back on and turns out to be Bob Sweet. When the two men slip out momentarily, Barnaby slinks in—aware of what has transpired. The lascivious cur tries to seduce Charlotte, who threatens to “sing” to the police of his villainy. The jealous Katinka appears and convinces Barnaby to feed Charlotte a black balloon filled with lethal gas. Just as the Bugaboos are about to kill Charlotte, Skitzy bolts in to the rescue. Brandishing a gun, she scares off the Bugaboos—until her other personality starts arguing over the gun. Barnaby grabs the weapon and shoots Skitzy to the floor. Upon the sound of gunshots, Harry and Cecily dash into the room and storm Barnaby—who shoots them down too. As the stunned Charlotte watches, Ludlow leaps back in—only to be likewise shot by Barnaby. But the tables turn on the Bugaboos.
The locket Charlotte gave Ludlow, which he has kept by his heart, has deflected Barnaby’s bullet and saved Ludlow. Our hero springs up and seizes the guns from Barnaby, as bobby Bob Sweet returns to arrest the Bugaboos. When the Bugaboos threaten to blame Charlotte for the murders of Skitzy, Cecily, and Harry, this trio bounds back—each with a reasons for being dazed by not deceased. As Katinka gazes in horror, the others besiege Barnaby (The Reckoning). Barnaby grabs Katinka’s lethal balloon, jumps onto the music-hall stage, and threatens to blow everyone to kingdom come. At this point Charlotte hits a high note that detonates the balloon. It’s curtains for Barnaby. To save her hide, Katinka vows to reform. Although the others want revenge, Cecily again cheers the air with an apt solution. Then the New Year bells ring, and everyone celebrates the joyous turn of events. As heart-shaped confetti is hurled, the valentines—Charlotte and Ludlow—are reunited with a kiss (Farewell To Auld Lang Syne/Finale).
CHARLOTTE SWEET A Madcap Musical Melodrama
Music by GERALD JAY MARKOE Libretto by MICHAEL COLBY
BOB SWEET (35-45; baritone to bass): Charlotte’s tall, husky father; John Cullum/Fred Gwynne type; must whistle loudly and amusingly; must affect an Irish accent; kindly and slightly obtuse.
CHARLOTTE SWEET (18-25; coloratura soprano with high upper register to upper E, if possible): pretty and petite ingénue has great comic innocence; optional bird-calling talents.
LUDLOW LADD GRIMBLE (18-26; heroic, boyish tenor; rangy voice and thin,): medium frame; noble and athletic; must imitate Queen Victoria. BARNABY BUGABOO (35-50; character-voiced baritone with wide vocal range): malicious, licentious impresario; a flashy, creepy cur.
KATINKA BUGABOO (25-40; alto with an almost unnaturally low range): Barnaby’s equally evil wife; buxom red-hot mama; can be a gaunt wicked stepmother type or a chubby harpy.
HARRY HOST (25-35; tenor to baritone): Cockney music-hall emcee; seedy, rowdy; must do lightning-fast patter.
CECILY MacINTOSH (25-40; bubble-voiced soprano à la Billie Burke or Betty Boop): warm, motherly, and daffy; not all there.
SKITZY SCOFIELD (25-35): improvisational female who can suggest being “half-man, half-woman;” somewhat manic and able to change personalities in a blink; must “duet” with herself.
Reed 1 (Flute, Clarinet, Alto Saxophone)
Reed 2 (Clarinet, Bassoon)