Traveling production of ‘Sweet Charity’ comes to LSU

There’s not much to do during off hours on a submarine, especially one that’s submerged for 67 days.

This is why Robert John Beidermann packed some VHS tapes for the trip. These were the days before Blu-ray and Netflix, and Beidermann was a midshipman in the Navy while attending college.

He quickly learned that regular hours are nonexistent on a submarine, because there’s no way to tell if it’s day or night. Work schedules were 18 hours on and 12 hours off.

And in that 12 hours, Beidermann watched his movie collection, which included a copy of director Bob Fosse’s 1969 film version of his Broadway musical, “Sweet Charity.”

Shirley McLaine starred as the taxi dancer Charity, and Stubby Kaye played gruff club owner Herman Kaye, who becomes weepy at the thought of a wedding.

In fact, Herman sings, “I Love to Cry at Weddings” near the show’s end.

“I loved that song,” Beidermann says. “And I knew that I wanted to sing it on stage one day.”

Well, that day has come. Beidermann plays Herman in Boebe Productions’ traveling Broadway production of “Sweet Charity,” which plays Friday, March 7, at the LSU Union Theater.

The show is the second in the theater’s 2014 LSU Union Theater Presents series, and Beidermann not only plays Herman but is the production’s company manager. He’s in charge of all aspects of this show.

“We have 18 cast members, some musicians, two buses and an 18-wheeler with the sets and equipment,” he says. “I usually meet with the theater manager during intermission, and the stage manager knows not to start the second act until I give the signal.”

He laughs.

“Besides, Herman is in the beginning of the second act, so it can’t start without me,” he says.

“Sweet Charity” premiered on Jan. 29, 1966, in Broadway’s Palace Theatre. It was written by Neil Simon, who based it on film director Frederico Fellini’s screenplay for his 1957 classic “Nights of Cabiria.” Bob Fosse not only was its choreographer but its director.

Cy Coleman wrote the music and Dorothy Field the lyrics. This is the same Cy Coleman who wrote the song “Hey Look Me Over” for the musical “Wildcat.” He would later give that song to the LSU Tiger Marching Band, which changed it to “Hey Fightin’ Tigers.”

“Sweet Charity” tells the story of taxi dancer and eternal optimist Charity Hope Valentine, who always gives her heart and dreams to the wrong man. She works in the Fan-Dango ballroom, where dancers line up and call out “big spenders,” but Charity knows there has to be something better.

Finally, she meets Oscar, a decent guy who loves her. He even asks her to marry him, but not all endings are happy.

“A lot of people think the ending is sad, but I think it’s a wonderful ending,” Beidermann says. “Charity has gone through life trying to validate herself through someone else. Her worth is always attached to a man. It’s at this point where she realizes she doesn’t need a man, that she can do this on her own.”

The LSU stop will mark Beidermann’s third Baton Rouge visit. He was a cast member in traveling productions of “South Pacific” and “The Wizard of Oz,” both of which played at the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre for the Performing Arts.

“The Wizard is my favorite role,” Beidermann says. “I played him for over 600 performances, and I would have signed up for 500 more. I loved that show, and I loved it when we’d perform it for children’s audiences. They’d go out of their way to meet Dorothy after the show, but they were always scared of the Wizard.”

Beidermann was working as a flight attendant while working on his master’s degree. He quit the job to take a part in a dinner theater production of “Mame.”

“And 40 years later, I’ve never looked back,” he says.

Beidermann has been to every state but Hawaii on his theater tours, snapping some 7,000 photographs along the way.

“It’s all about the journey for me,” he says. “I don’t care about the destination; it’s about the trip. We stayed in the Radisson Inn along the interstate both times I’ve been to Baton Rouge, and I’ve walked from there to the downtown area both times. I take pictures along the way, and my favorite pictures are those of people I don’t know along the street — real people.”