Carnage: Art vs. Art and "Sweeney"

October 1, 2008
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As I mentioned Monday, I finally got to Art vs. Art  (Sept. 26), the crazed art auction/game show/demolition derby that uptowned from Fountain Square to the Vogue this year.

I’ll confess to getting caught up in the same blood lust that fueled the large crowd, feeling a bit of disappointment whenever a work found a buyer rather than face the fate handed out by the Wheel of Death.

Could part of it be that I didn’t particularly love any of the work that made the finals? Or that it’s just more fun and exciting to see a chainsaw reduce a painting to pizza proportions (and have it covered with sauce and cheese, box, and rammed onto a spike) then it is to see a work carted off by someone writing a check?

Whatever the case, kudos to Primary Colors and their minions for staging a unique, crowd-pleasing event. And helping a few locals artists make some bucks.

I witnessed carnage, too, last night on stage at IU Auditorium where the non-Equity touring company of “Sweeney Todd” is stopping for a two-day stint. The tour didn’t include Indy, so a shot down I-65 to Bloomington last night seemed in order.

In a production based on director John Doyle’s recent acclaimed Broadway revival of the bloody barber tale, this “Sweeney” features a cast that also serves as orchestra, picking up their instruments as needed. The result is mixed. What’s gained in admiration for the talent is balanced by losses in dramatic and geographic focus.

In the title role, Merritt David Janes (who came through Indy last year as the lead in “The Wedding Singer”) proved adept and intense. Carrie Cimma offered a Dorothy Louden-esque Mrs. Lovett. David Alan Marshall was far too young to give Judge Turpin his full, creepy due. And most of the gore was provided by red water poured from bucket to bucket to symbolize the emptying jugulars.

An interesting side-trip for Todd, but I prefer the original staging (you can find it on DVD) and the Tim Burton film. Still, any opportunity to hear one of the greatest scores in Broadway history shouldn’t be missed. Tonight’s the last night.
  • My daughter and I are going to Sweeney Todd tonight. She loved the movie so much we bought it. I hope the live singing -- she's a singer herself -- makes up for the production straying from the movie; she's at the age where whatever version she sees or reads first is the true version. I'll let you know.
  • Cindy,
    Remind her that the stage version came first--and that this production also was developed before the film was released.
    I'll be curious to hear what both of you think of it.
  • I'm not able to see Sweeney Todd, despite being a huge fan of the show. (For all of you who have just seen the movie, I strongly encourage you to see a stage version. They cut some of my favorite songs in the movie.)

    Anywho, I'm chiming in because I saw the Great Performances showing of John Doyle's revival of Company and I was in awe of how well the cast/orchestra worked for that show. It was incorporated into the themes and characters with such ease. I'm surprised that people say this format works so well for Sweeney Todd, a show with a stronger narrative line than Company. It's something I would like to have seen and hope to one day see.
  • We're back from Sweeney Todd, and we both loved it! My daughter liked it even better than the movie in many ways, because you weren't distracted by the gore.

    The direction seemed a bit clumsy in a few places, usually in the switch to scenes involving Johanna; I saw what you meant by losing geographic focus. But the actors more than made up for it, and Act II was as gripping, intense and creepy as you could ask for. The judge was too young, but once he got started, he creeped us out plenty; Mrs. Lovett's tuba playing was apropos; and Sweeney was exceptional.

    You're right: You haven't seen Sweeney Todd until you've seen it on the stage.
  • You haven't seen it until you have seen it on stage without actor's having to lug around what should remain in the pit. Want to see an on stage band, see Chicago or better yet Pump Boys or Smoke On The Mountain. An interesting experiment, but not the real thing. Like giving someone that has never had pizza a pie with grilled chicken, and BBQ sauce...tasty, but not the real thing.
  • Nicely put, Ty.
    Still, better than the same actors-as-musicians take on Sondheim's Company (judging from the PBS presentation).
  • OK -- now we have an excuse to see another version! Thanks, all.
  • Funny - I've seen countless versions of Sweeney - it's a favorite of mine, and I've performed in a standard one, several years ago....Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the Doyle version (both in NYC with Patti LuPone and on tour with Judy Kaye)....I thought it added another layer, and in many ways focused more on the actual characters with the elimination of the chorus. I like aspects of both styles of the productions.....and having seen Smoke on the Mountain, I'd say - um, not the same thing. It's tedious. Pump Boys is enjoyable, on the other hand.

    I believe Sondheim's not upset by the Doyle production at all - why should anyone else be?
  • KS,
    Not upset, just unsatisfied.
    But you raise an interesting question: Is the ultimate goal of a production to satify its creators? Surely there are many examples of a playwright or composer being pleased with a production that left audience members cold. The first that comes to mind is the most recent Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar (the one with the hanging slabs of meat). I spoke briefly in the lobby with lyricist Tim Rice, who claimed to love it. Well...
  • KS,
    Also, just curious if you saw Beef & Boards' Smoke on the Mountain or a different production.

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