If you’re in the mood for a big, flashy musical but can’t afford a trip to Broadway, why not head for Westerville? Otterbein University’s theater department turns out a steady stream of singing and dancing thespians, and putting on major musicals is an important part of their education.

 To be sure, several local theater troupes also tackle musicals from time to time, but none of them can match the size and spectacle of an Otterbein production.

 Take the current show, Sweet Charity. Even before the familiar first strains of the overture fill the air, you know it’s going to be big because the orchestra pit is so crowded. Conductor Lori Kay Harvey leads an ensemble of 22 that includes strings, reeds, brass, a keyboard and two percussionists.

 Once the show gets under way, the romantic travails of Charity Hope Valentine (Madison Tinder) are intermixed with production numbers that fill the huge Cowan Hall stage with singers and dancers.

 It’s the dancing that impresses the most, just as it did when director/ choreographer Bob Fosse opened the show on Broadway in 1966. (The original production was nominated for nine Tony Awards but won only for choreography.)

 Fosse’s influence is most evident after Charity meets up with film star Vittorio Vidal (Jordan Matthew Donica) and accompanies him to the swanky Pompeii Club. There, choreographer Stella Hiatt Kane has her dancers strut across the floor while arching their backs at such an extreme angle that their upper bodies are nearly parallel to the floor. It’s quite a sight.

 Back at the far seedier club where Charity earns her living as a taxi dancer, the moves are more reminiscent of Fosse’s Chicago. The dancers-for-hire contort their bodies in provocative poses as they taunt male patrons by singing the sassy, brassy “Big Spender.”

 Later on, a livelier and funnier form of choreography is on display in “Rhythm of Life,” a spoof of hip spirituality that’s led by the evangelistic Daddy Brubeck (Jared Howelton).

 If dancing is the show’s chief joy, the music is a close second. Only two of the tunes by composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Dorothy Fields are really memorable—“Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now”—but others are fun or at least pleasant.

 Good songs, great dancing: What else does a musical need? Oh, yes, a plot.

That’s where Sweet Charity comes up short.

 With a Neil Simon book that’s based loosely on a classic Fellini film, this is basically the tale of a woman who gives her heart away too easily and indiscriminately and thus is constantly disappointed by life. It could be touching, but it squanders its potential by spending too much time on tangents and dead ends before screeching to an abrupt and unsatisfying halt.

 The tone, also, is inconsistent. In the beginning, when Charity’s latest beau pushes her into the Central Park Lake and runs off with her purse, passers-by merely watch and wait to see if she drowns. Later, this cynical worldview is turned on its head when Charity’s hard-bitten boss (Kyle Hansen) sings the sappy “I Love to Cry at Weddings.”

 At Otterbein, director Christina Kirk makes the most of the show’s strengths by getting great work out of her cast. Standouts include Donica as movie star Vidal,

Alex Huffman as the neurotic Oscar Lindquist, and Alison Schiller and Mason Smajstrla as two of Charity’s fellow taxi dancers.

 As Charity herself, Tinder sings nicely and dances beautifully. The pathos of Charity’s existence would be clearer if Tinder added a bit more vulnerability to her portrayal, but overall it’s a powerhouse effort.

 Adding several layers of delicious icing to the theatrical cake are designers Rob Johnson (scenery), Kelly Ganley (lighting), Zachary Paugh (costumes) and PJ Peters (sound).

 If you want to see what Otterbein can do with a stronger work, Into the Woods is coming up in the spring. Meanwhile, Sweet Charity offers Broadway-style pizzazz minus the hassle of actually going to Broadway.

 Sweet Charity will be presented at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (Oct. 2-4) at Cowan Hall, 30 S. Grove St., Westerville. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $25. 614-823-1109 or www.otterbein.edu/drama.

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