Saturday, August 11, 2012

More Meat Pies!

I had the pleasure of seeing modest but ambitious Dallas ensemble Level Ground Arts present Sweeney Todd at its opening on August 10.  Even with scenic and electrical challenges that Artistic Director Bill Fountain explained prevented use of a platform that would have been very useful, the show had a great energy and verve and charm, if charm is possible in portraying the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Shane Strawbridge and Andi Allen
The star of the show always has to be the man playing Sweeney, and Shane Strawbridge was no disappointment.  A big, burly man, he embodied the obsessive nature of Sweeney Todd, with every action, every word calculated to move him closer to his  vengeful goal.  Mr. Strawbridge is a highly skilled actor, and also a skilled singer, although the role seems to lie a little low for him vocally.  Either the effort of projecting in his low-to-middle range over a small but slightly loud band or opening night nerves gave him a little bit of trouble once or twice, but not enough to mar a very fine performance.

Mr. Strawbridge was not the only one who seemed to be a good actor who clearly could sing, but whose role was not exactly a good fit vocally.  Andi Allen was a pleasure to watch as Mrs. Lovett in both dramatic and comedic moments, but some of her vocal lines were lost because they were low for her.

Many in the supporting cast were an absolute delight.  My favorite secondary character was Mark Hawkins as Judge Turpin.  He was smarmy and creepy looked very much like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.  His self-flagellation scene was brilliantly played.  He's a good singer whose role did fit his voice vocally.  Michael B. Moore as the charlatan Italian barber Adolfo Perelli was a joy.  He came ridiculously close to stealing his big scene completely, with his total commitment to the silliness and foppishness of his character.  Randall Scott Carpenter was brilliant as Tobias Ragg, the simple-minded boy who is first Adolfo Perelli's assistant, then Mrs. Lovett's.  His song "Not While I'm Around" with Mrs. Lovett had all the tenderness and desperation this tired old blogger could ask for.   Delynda Johnson Moravec was delightfully schizophrenic as the Beggar Woman.  The very young Monica Music and the more experienced Max Swarmer gave us pleasant performances as Johanna and Anthony, the young lovers.  (Aren't there always young lovers, no matter what show we're discussing?)

Kudos to director John de los Santos and the rest of the production team for dealing with the last-minute technical emergency that prevented the group from using the platform.  I was never really sure what the problem was, but in the end I didn't care because the work-around didn't intrude on the story telling.  I quite liked his directing overall, along with the work of the actors, for there was reasonably clear character definition and stage traffic seemed to flow very well.  No awkward moments that made one wonder why this or that choice was made.  (I also quite liked how he filled his skimpy little black shirt.  But that's beside the point.)  The small ensemble of two keyboards and bass, led by Music Director Adam C. Wright, played ably, but as I say they were occasionally a little loud.  It was clear Mr. Wright and his team had worked very hard with the cast on musical preparation, which was overall very well done.

Sweeney Todd plays weekends through September 1 at Trinity River Arts Theatre in Dallas.  I highly recommend it.

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