Lowbrow Productions

Directed by Brian Noffke

Hedback Theatre

Through Dec. 30

For its inaugural show, Lowbrow Productions (founded by Doug Johnson, Nick Carpenter, Brian Noffke and Lisa Paff-Johnson) chose a controversial Sondheim musical, Assassins, producing it in the Hedback Theatre. But instead of utilizing Hedback’s auditorium, which is used for musicals on a regular basis (Hedback is the home of Footlite Musicals), the group erected risers over the orchestra pit and placed the audience on the edge of the stage (in folding metal chairs, no less). First of all, why would you go through all that work to create an intimate setting in a large theater instead of just using a small theater to begin with (such as Theatre on the Square’s second stage, or the Old Centrum, or the Alley Theatre)? Second, this is not a musical that is as effective in an intimate setting. Big scores, big characters — Sondheim needs to be experienced in a big setting. Much of the musical’s feel was lost by making it claustrophobically intimate. I don’t want to see the large hook that keeps the actor from choking sticking out of Charles Guiteau’s suit when he is hung on stage. I want some distance so I can lose myself in the grandiosity.

And grandiosity was sadly lacking in much of this production. Even in close confines, Collin Poynter as the Balladeer was hard to hear and understand. Projection and enunciation were sorely lacking in many numbers, not just from Poynter, who has a key narrative role, but from many recognizable members of the cast (who should know better). Ensemble numbers, such as “How I Saved Roosevelt,” were muddy. Pairings were off: Dean Reynolds and Bobbi Bates didn’t mesh in their duet, “Unworthy of Your Love.”

However, some individual performances stood out. Triston Ross as Samuel Byck, a ranting lunatic in a Santa suit, was fantastic — he had a certain look in his eyes that upped the psycho factor — as was Scot Greenwell as self-aggrandizing Guiteau (hook aside) in his number “The Ballad of Guiteu.” Eric Karwisch as John Wilkes Booth, a constant instigator to the other assassins, is smooth, yet maintains a certain smarmy aspect within his character.

Setting and costuming were OK, if nothing to get excited about, but lighting was a little too blatant. The musicians, hidden in the wings, were quite good. If you go, take a cushion. One enterprising audience member Saturday night snagged a cushion from the lobby to ease his bum through Act 2.

Assassins continues through Dec. 30 at Hedback Theatre, 1847 N. Alabama St. For tickets, $15 in advance and $18 at the door, call 317-523-7462, http://www.lowbrowproductions.org.



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