Sweet Charity

By Richard Schultz, May 2015 Issue.

Director M. Seth Reines and musical director JR McAlexander are totally in tune, both as a couple and production virtuosos. Together for more than 20 years, they have once again joined forces to produce theatre greatnesss.

Their latest effort, Sweet Charity, is a 1960s musical about seeking love and striving for a better life. Together, their life together embodies a love filled with passion for each other and their art form.

Sweet Charity continues searching for love, as a wide-eyed, gullible and guileless lady known as Charity Hope Valentine. Charity is a dance hostess who always gives her heart and her dreams to the wrong man. Through trials and tribulations, Charity continues searching for love, wide-eyed and hopeful.

But the story really begins in December 1992, when the couple met while working on a production of Phantom of the Opera at a theatre outside Chicago. Reines was the director and JR was the musical director – roles that set the pace for their next two decades together.

The next summer, Seth hired JR as his musical director for an Equity summer theatre in Illinois. They instantly became best friends and, when both were hired for the national tour of Sunday In The Park With George the fall of 1993, it was kismet. Their shared a love of the theatre that was the basis for their newly forged relationship, which will mark its 22nd anniversary in September.

Photo courtesy of Sweet Charity.

“[Working together] always enhances the process as we are each other's second set of eyes and ears,” Reines said. “Also, after working on over 200 productions together, we communicate telepathically and have the greatest respect for each other's talents.”

Reines served as artistic director of Little Theatre on the Square, Illinois’ oldest Equity Stock Company for 25 years. A member of the Society for Directors and Choreographers, National Alliance of Musical Theatre Producers and Actors Equity, Reines has staged more than 450 productions for stage and television, including national tours of All Shook Up, The Wedding Singer and South Pacific. He has been recognized as winner of the Cleveland Drama Critic’s Award, San Francisco’s Dramalogue Award and numerous AriZoni and Herald awards for Best Direction of a Musical. He has worked with such stage luminaries as Angela Lansbury, Chita Rivera, Leslie Uggams, Jerry Herman, Tom Wopat, and Peter Allen. Seth also served as Director of Musical Theatre at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

McAlexander has music directed more than 375 productions throughout the United States and Canada, including national tours of Anything Goes, Footloose and Beehive. Winner of numerous AriZoni and Herald awards for Best Music Direction, McAlexander has worked with numerous stars, including Donald O’Connor, Gloria Loring, Gloria DeHaven, Van Johnson and Ken Page and numerous Broadway and West End performers. He has also served as Musical Director for such prestigious theatres as The Guthrie of Minneapolis; Theatre Under the Stars of Houston; The Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA; Cumberland County Playhouse in Tennessee and the Galveston Island Opera House.

Together, they founded Arizona-based Showtune Productions, which stages original musical revues and tribute shows with a mix of local and national entertainers. The company also provides musical direction, musical orchestrations, stage direction and workshops for theaters and academic institutions across the U.S. They are currently booking the 2015-2016 season while also creating and casting all new shows.

Photo courtesy of Sweet Charity.

As they rehearse for the opening of Sweet Charity at Arizona Broadway Theatre, they both exclaim the charms of this iconic Broadway musical.

Sweet Charity is set in 1966, when the original show opened.

“It is fun reliving the ’60s from trendy high-end fashionistas to hippie prophets and dance hall hostesses,” Reines said. “John White’s costumes are theatrically flamboyant and Geof Enroe’s set is inspired by pop icon Peter Max. Our Sweet Charity is much brighter and more colorful than the original.”

The duo also appreciate the production’s evolution from a once-contemporary into the period piece it is today.

“We were surprised by that Cy Coleman’s score, Dorothy Field’s lyrics and Neil Simon’s book are still so fresh,” McAlexander said. “It is funny that most of our cast was born in the ‘90s and had to research the ‘60s. Thank goodness for Google and YouTube!”

Broadway legend Bob Fosse created the memorable choreography for the original Broadway production, which starred Gwen Verdon. Reines said he loves the new choreography by Kurtis Overby, adding his sentiments that it is “a spirited homage to Fosse, but with his own touch.”

Sweet Charity is a tender, poignant and consistently funny look at the adventures – or rather the misadventures – in the ways of loves. The musical explores the idea that “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.” But that’s not necessarily true for Reines and McAlexander, as this dynamic duo has realized their dream and continues to live it to the fullest, together. Now that’s a happy ending!

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