'Sweeney' has hits and misses


Sweeney Todd

Scottish Rite Performing Arts Center

Directed by Eric Karwisch

Through Oct. 28

Atmospherically, the Scottish Rite Performing Arts Center’s Sweeney Todd is spot on. Lighting designers Charlie Bush and Eric Karwisch impeccably create the moody, shadowy setting for the tale of mad cannibalism.

Karwisch, who is also the director, molded the cast into a whole that, even with the existence of quibbles, overall creates a very satisfying rendition of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical.

Local regular Dave Ruark plays the title character. Several times Ruark has proved his vocal prowess on stage, and he does not disappoint here, delivering a strong performance of the music-heavy character. His Sweeny seems more sullen than mad, however, and he has more of an affinity — almost an obsessive love relationship — for his razor than a zealous thirst for revenge. While giving us a memorable performance of the show’s songs, his non-sung parts seemed almost — dare I say it — flat. Karwisch could have allowed Ruark more characterization — and I know Ruark is capable of it.

For Vonda Fuhrmann, another well-known local actor, this could perhaps be her best performance. Fuhrmann may have her share of off-key notes, but in this setting it works, as it plays into her British Cockney character. Energy and enthusiasm are as plentiful as her meat pies. Of the cast, hers is the most charismatic and interesting character.

Todd’s daughter, Joanna, played by Carrie Walker, is sweet, if shrill in her high notes, and her love interest, Anthony, played by Collin Poynter, also sings better than he acts here (strange, since this is Bat Boy from the Phoenix Theatre). Stephen Hunt as Judge Turpin has a rather sad self-flagellation scene, but his duet with Ruark, “Pretty Women,” is lovely. Mark Peed as the Beadle is fine and Scot Greenwell as multiple characters is a little over-enthusiastic.

As the story is set in London, it is worth mentioning that the accents ranged from Fuhrmann’s head-on attempt to Ruark showing almost no accent at all, and other characters vocalizing everything in between.

Other accoutrements, such as costumes (Julie Powers) and sets (Karwisch) are effective, as is the use of a real orchestra, which does a wonderful job. Recognition should also go to musical director Terry Woods for pulling so many fine vocal performances out of the cast.

The overall impression of the show, though, is that this is a version of Sweeney Todd worth visiting. It continues at the Scottish Rite Cathedral Oct. 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. For tickets ($28; $20 seniors; $14 students and cathedral members), call 317-262-3120 or www.scottishriteevents.com.


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