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The Arts
September 13-19, 2006

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'Sweet Charity'

Photograph by Andrew Eccles
Charity Begins on the Road: Molly Ringwald stars in 'Sweet Charity,' opening Tuesday in San Jose.

My Life With Molly Ringwald

A short chat about long memories with the star of American Musical Theatre San Jose's 'Sweet Charity'

By Marianne Messina

OK, IT WAS only 15 minutes with Molly Ringwald—maybe less, I wasn't counting; her handlers were—well, 15 minutes plus the lingering imprint of those three '80s movies where she plays the pouty ultracoolster: Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and Breakfast Club. She turned down a fourth John Hughes film, the one in which she could have ridden her niche into the ground. "It gets too boring," says Ringwald. "It's one of the challenges of this business is to fight stereotyping." Instead, she took on a lot of other projects that didn't hit as big, like a quirky King Lear, and she moved to France at the height of her obscurity. There she became fluent in French and topped off her expatriate career with a performance in the film Enfants de salaud (Children of the Bastard)—talk about quirky—for which she performed in French. "That was a huge challenge for me," Ringwald admits; "it was also terrifying." And yet, as if being in a French film isn't enough, she says she'd love to go back and do a play in French as well. Why live stage in a second language? "It gives you the opportunity to sort of perfect things, and I'm a perfectionist."

All this sounds about right for the daughter of a jazz pianist, a girl who incidentally recorded an album at the age of 6. To be sure, Molly's no stranger to singing, having played Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway; so when she comes to American Musical Theatre San Jose as Charity Hope Valentine, the title role of Sweet Charity, we can expect singing chops. The challenging stretch in this career move for the upper-thirtysomething singer/actress is the dancing. Originally conceived by Bob Fosse (and by Wayne Cilento for this touring production), the dancing will be plentiful and leggy. Ringwald started rehearsing a week ahead of schedule so she could concentrate on her dance moves before anything else. "It's a great way to get back your pretty baby body," Ringwald quips. A side benefit, she says, is that, like a stint of yoga, "Your posture changes, after using all your muscles." Now the mother of a 2-1/2-year-old, Ringwald jumped on the idea of touring while her daughter, Mathilda, is still young enough to come along. "We get to do the whole thing together as a family." Though she's filmed internationally and performed live in London (When Harry Met Sally) and New York (on and off-Broadway), the California native admits Sweet Charity will be her first show touring the United States. When I spoke to her, she was just getting off book and still unsure of everything.

A character called Charity Hope Valentine, a cad magnet with Orphan Annie resilience, sounds like someone more syrupy than fans of the hesitant, conflicted Samantha (Sixteen Candles) could endure. Coming off M. Butterfly at TheatreWorks, I can't help but see the wishful thinking in the idea of a loving prostitute (from the original source, Fellini's Nights of Cabiria)—or even an ever-hopeful dance-hall girl (from Neil Simon's book for the stage version). Though Ringwald admits the character is nothing like her, she remembers enjoying Shirley MacLaine in the film and warmed up to the idea of Charity quickly. "Maybe the red hair or something, I don't know," Ringwald laughs. "It's just somebody who totally believes in love." Now that Ringwald is a family woman, I can see the appeal. It's just that my real life with Molly Ringwald—where she's the icon of a time when being pretty, sulky and cool was enough—finds all this a little disconcerting. But so is the idea of some charismatic teen a dozen years from now named Mathilda looking at this icon with the "You just don't get it, do you, Mom?" look.

Sweet Charity, presented by American Music Theatre San Jose, plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30pm through Oct. 1 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $13.75-$73. (888.455.SHOW)

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