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Adrian Chamberlain's Stage Left: Sweet Charity star Lara Hamburg lights up stage

It’s entirely possible Victoria might be snowbound as you’re reading this. But if we’re not (or if you’re a deft hand with snowshoes), you might want to catch today’s final performance of Sweet Charity.
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Lara Hamburg stars as Charity Hope Valentine in the Canadian College of Performing Arts production of Sweet Charity, which has its final performance tonight at the school’s Oak Bay performance hall.

It’s entirely possible Victoria might be snowbound as you’re reading this. But if we’re not (or if you’re a deft hand with snowshoes), you might want to catch today’s final performance of Sweet Charity.

The 1966 musical has been revived by the Canadian College of Performing Arts at its Oak Bay performance hall. This production has several things going for it: solid direction and choreography from a couple of stage veterans … and a diminutive spark-plug known as Lara Hamburg.

Hamburg plays the lead role of Charity Hope Valentine, an irrepressible dance-hall floozy with a heart of gold. On Thursday night she radiated pep, exuberance, pizzazz and all things sassy. All of this was topped off with a 1,000-megawatt smile that never waned, not even for a second.

Fans of classic Broadway are familiar with this musical, which boasts two famous numbers: Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now. Charity is a so-called “taxi dancer,” a somewhat dodgy vocation — customers pay her for dances and conversation.

The songs, some of them memorable, are by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. Today the wise-crack-stuffed book by Neil Simon sounds dated: we get Laugh-In style references to “dumb broads” and “the fickle finger of fate” (fortunately there’s no mention of “Look it up in your Funk and Wagnall’s”).

Hamburg is blessed with the ability to laser-beam a big personality to an audience for 2 1/2 hours — no easy feat. And she’s able to do it with a likable ebullience that makes us forget that, in the real world, Charity’s gonzo optimism would be cause for being institutionalized. Her best scenes included a credible rendition of If My Friends Could See Me Now and a funny dance with a collapsible top hat.

As Charity’s weirdo love interest Oscar, Ben Alto-Bond was unable to match his cohort in the singing department. Yet he did offer clever comic acting during a scene in which Oscar and Charity are stuck in an elevator — something that bodes well for an acting career.

Barbara Tomasic, a professional director, has ensured the pace is brisk. Scenes are handled cleverly with limited resources — for instance, Tomasic manages to make Charity’s plunge into a lake look convincing with simple video and a deft curtain pull.

Fellow stage veteran Jessica Hickman offers choreography that’s unfailingly cheeky and fun. Kudos also go to band-leader/keyboardist Brad L’écuyer, who conducted a well-rehearsed sextet with nuance and skill.

Last weekend at the Royal Theatre, Victoria audiences were treated to first-rate performances by Ballet West. Dance lovers will remember this Salt Lake City company from 2015, when the troupe offered memorable interpretations of The Lottery, based on Shirley Jackson’s infamous short story (a town hosts a ritual in which a citizen is stoned to death).

This time Ballet West offered the 30-minute work Fox on the Doorstep. A highly personal piece, it is choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s memorial to his late father. It was inspired by Fonte’s sighting of a white Arctic fox on his doorstep one snowy evening — this turned out to be the same night his father died.

Unless one knows the backstory, Fox on the Doorstep — a major piece for 12 dancers — seems somewhat enigmatic and abstract. Still, the rewards are there. It begins with clicking percussion, followed by the sweep of ominous strings. The metronomic click turns out to be a central motif — time is slipping away.

Ballet West’s trademark style is a mix of classic and contemporary dance. During Fox on the Doorstep, a large spotlight mounted from the ceiling glared down at the dancers, who often assembled in tribal circles and more loosely assembled groupings. Elsewhere, there were intimate pas de deux as well as lyrical solo and trio passages. The most powerful images included the conclusion of the first section, when the dancers posed in a tableau reminiscent of Matisse’s Circle of Life. Also unforgettable: the sight of a lone male dancer in the final scene with faux snowflakes drifting down.

Overall, Fox on the Doorstep evolves from a cold, relentless sense of inevitability to lonely redemption and acceptance.

Africa Guzman’s Sweet and Bitter, opening the program, was particularly impressive with its Ballanchine-like austerity and beautifully rehearsed classical-modern movement, set to Ezio Bosso’s enchanting music for string quartet. It’s the perfect showcase for this long-limbed, good-looking company.

Ballet West wowed the crowd with artistic director Adam Sklute’s crowd-pleasing interpretations of the white swan and black swan pas de deux from Swan Lake. Dancing to Tchaikovsky’s original score, Beckanne Sisk as Odile impressed by dispatching a seemingly never-ending series of fouettes with virtuosity and grace.