SWEET CHARITY is a tender, poignant and consistently funny look at the adventures, or rather the misadventures, in the ways of love encountered by the 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.
We meet Charity when she is involved with a married man, whom she hopes will be her fiancé just as soon as he divorces his wife. She meets him in the park where she sings of her fondness of him (You Should See Yourself), but he does not reciprocate her kind sentiments with any sweet talk. She fantasizes about the wonderful life they will share when they are married, and even plans to buy furniture for their future home. When she romantically suggests her love throw something into the beautiful lake for good luck, he catches her off guard. Instead of tossing in the traditional coin and making a wish, he throws her in and steals her purse which contains her life savings. Poor Charity is pulled out of the lake by a passer-by, and reports her misfortune to the police.
Back at the Fan-Dango ballroom where she works, Charity admits once again to her girlfriends that she let another man take advantage of her. The night at the dance hall begins with Big Spender and Charity suddenly runs out of the dance hall; she vows to never fall for another man and let him get her hopes up for a happy ending (Charity’s Soliloquy).
Walking in the street Charity is caught in the middle of a fight between Vittorio Vidal, the famous film star, and his mistress Ursala. Charity lets Vidal take her into the lavish Pompeii Club for the evening (Rich Man’s Frug). Vidal talks of Ursala the whole night and uses Charity as an escort. She calls her girlfriends at the Fan-Dango ballroom, and has Vittorio talk to them to prove she is out with the celebrity. In all of the excitement, Charity faints. Vittorio brings her to his apartment, where she recovers. She sings If My Friends Could See Me Now, and just as Charity is about to make a move on Vittorio, they are interrupted by Ursala. Charity ends up hiding from Ursala in a closet-like armoire all night. She hears Vittorio sing Too Many Tomorrows to Ursala, tries smoking a cigarette in the armoire, and finally peaks out from her hiding place and just watches the couple. In the ultimate insulting gesture, Vittorio brings Charity out of the closet the next morning while Ursala is still there to see her leave.
Charity’s girlfriends at the dance hall are shocked that Charity did not receive a substantial monetary gift from Vittorio. They all dream of a better life (There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This). The same night Charity tries to meet new people by going to the local YMCA. She gets stuck in an elevator with a claustrophobic tax accountant named Oscar, and she sings I’m The Bravest Individual to give him courage.
Oscar takes an interest in Charity, and invites her to his Rhythm of Life Church. The Church evolved from a jazz music group, and its congregants include people down on their luck (The Rhythm of Life). Before the service starts, the police break up the meeting. Charity and Oscar get to know each other more. For some unknown reason to Charity, Oscar thinks she is a bank teller. She likes this idea, so decides not to clarify what she really does for a living. Charity falls for Oscar, and is soon fantasizing a nice life with him (Baby, Dream Your Dream). She knows she must tell Oscar what she really does for a living, but the right opportunity never seems to come up. At Coney Island they get stuck for a second time together, this time on the parachute jump. Oscar has a chance to comfort his Sweet Charity this time.
Charity decides to quit her job at the Fan-Dango. (Where Am I Going?) She finally gets the nerve up to tell Oscar that she is a dance hall hostess, but can’t look him in the eye when she tells him the truth. She is surprised to find out that he already knew the truth; he had followed her there one night and stayed to watch. Oscar tells Charity that he can forget about her old job, and he proposes to her. Charity celebrates with I’m A Brass Band. Her boss and co-workers sing I Love To Cry At Weddings. Finally Charity will live happily ever after! But Oscar breaks the engagement; he tried but just can’t forget that Charity had been a dance hall hostess and had been with other men before they met. As they are walking through the park, Charity trying to save the relationship, Oscar trying to end it, Oscar makes his point by throwing Charity into the lake. This particular lake is bad luck for Charity. As she pulls herself out of the water, a Good Fairy appears and says to Charity, “Tonight, it will all happen tonight.” Charity is again overcome by hope and optimism for finding her true love, until the Good Fairy turns around. There is a sign on the Fairy’s back which reads “THE GOOD FAIRY – tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS.”