Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006 | As musicals go, “Sweet Charity” is simple and, well, sweet. There aren’t out-of-this-world costumes or flashing pyrotechnics, but this show has personality, great acting, superb dancing and a loveable headliner.

Molly Ringwald stars as Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer (dancehall hostess in a men’s club) with a heart of gold and terrible choice in men. Ringwald, known for her roles in beloved 80’s John Hughes movies, is no stranger to the stage and recently received rave reviews as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret.” And “Cabaret,” like “Sweet Charity,” was originally choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse.

“Sweet Charity,” composed by Cy Coleman and with libretto by Dorothy Fields, and starring Gwen Verndon in the title role, originally hit Broadway in 1966 with great success. A film was later released starring Shirley MacLaine and the Broadway revival in 2005 starred Christina Applegate. Scott Faris directed and Wayne Cilento choreographed this version.

Obviously, the part of Charity calls for someone with a lot of stage presence and on Tuesday night, Molly Ringwald succeeded mightily in pulling it off. Some of the most entertaining and adorable parts of the show were watching Ringwald as she acted and reacted. The audience was often putty in her hands, and she completely stole a scene where she’s hiding in the closet of Italian actor Vittorio Vidal (self-absorbed and dashing perfectly captured by Aaron Ramey) as he reunites with his lover Ursula (graceful Angel Reda). Charity sits on a suitcase in a closet, wearing a men’s hat down low over her cute bobbed hair, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer.

Ringwald effortlessly makes it a captivating scene.

What Ringwald lacked in voice control (and she does have a very capable voice) she made up with sheer character. Although she seemed winded in the first act, I’d venture that it was due to jitters and the fact that this was the opening night of the entire tour.

“Sweet Charity” isn’t one of the more talked about musicals of my generation, but many of the songs are immediately recognizable once begun. The early “Big Spender” number, as danced to and performed by the Fandango girls is oozing with sensuality, totally Fosse. The women were so good that audience members (good-naturedly) whistled and hooted from their seats. Charity’s “If My Friends Could See Me Now” had the audience completely endeared to her. Ringwald’s tiny mannerisms – cute head cocks and hands clasped in excitement – make the character even more dimensional.

Other standouts include Amanda Watkins as Nickie and Kisha Howard as Helene, two of Charity’s fellow hostesses at the Fandango. Sassy, funny and brutally honest, Nickie and Helene advise Charity on her ways with men and lament the business of hostessing.

And it is Guy Adkins as Oscar Lindquist who takes hold of the stage as he enters, snaring the audience into a riotous scene involving a stuck elevator. Adkins’ unexpected physical comedy (reminiscent of television’s “Mr. Bean,” for those in the know) coupled with his guileless, soft-spoken persona, had the audience howling. My always composed seat-mate was actually crying with laughter.

The stage sets and backdrops are imaginative, smoothly transitioning locales from the Fandango dancehall, the 92nd Street “Y,” a church and a ferris wheel, among others.

There are a handful of dance numbers that showcase wicked cool choreography and bring to mind 60’s mod clubs. You may even catch a quick “cameo” of Andy Warhol if you look carefully.

“Sweet Charity” opened the national tour Tuesday night here in San Diego with applause when the curtain went up and a standing ovation before it went down. I expect the show to get even better and more polished as more performances are put under the belt. The show is fun, the performances are exuberant and Ringwald is completely loveable and convincing as Miss Charity Hope Valentine.

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