Actors Theatre of Indiana breaks from normal fare by presenting Sondheim’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ in Carmel

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The cast during a recent rehearsal. From left, John Collins, John Vessel, Don Farrell, Craig Underwood, Rory Shivers-Brimm, and Paul Nicely. (Submitted photo)

The cast during a recent rehearsal. From left, John Collins, John Vessel, Don Farrell, Craig Underwood, Rory Shivers-Brimm, and Paul Nicely. (Submitted
photo)

By Mark Ambrogi

This performance comes with a warning: this is not your normal Actors Theatre of Indiana fare.

“We’re known for more uplifting and light-hearted shows,” said Don Farrell, one of ATI founders along with Judy Fitzgerald and Cynthia Collins. “People walk away with a little tap in their step.”

That’s not likely to be the case with “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

“This one has very mature themes, it could be even considered an R-rated show,” Farrell said.

No nudity, Farrell assured, but it is the tale of a murderous barber bent on revenge.

“It’s a musical thriller,” Farrell said. “Stephen Sondheim has to be one of the most brilliant writers, really ever.”

Farrell will play the title character.

“It’s a dream role for almost every male actor,” Farrell said. “If you ask actors what are your dream roles, nine times out of 10 Sweeney Todd will be listed among those roles for any actor on the musical theater stage.”

Farrell previously performed in “Sweeney Todd” twice before as Anthony Hope in two other productions.

“‘Sweeney Todd’ is very rich with layers and layers of subplots,” Farrell said. “You could make an entire college course just analyzing this musical.”

Collins, who will play the beggar woman, is also major Sondheim fan.

“Sondheim is probably one of the most brilliant composers of the 20th and 21st century,” Collins said. “His shows are extremely difficult and complex and a challenge. For an actor, it’s wonderful to do a Sondheim show because of the challenge and the great satisfaction of getting over those hurdles.

“I can’t emphasizes enough how special it is for actor to do a Sondheim show. You don’t see a lot of Sondheim shows around here because his work is so complex and so difficult that some theatre companies don’t want to do it — they don’t think the audiences will understand it. ‘Sweeney Todd’ is in the top five of the greatest musicals ever written.”

This is Richard J Roberts’ fourth time directing a show with ATI. He previously directed “My Fair Lady,”  “The 39 Steps” and “The Musical of Musicals.”

“It’s definitely a challenging and complicating show and one that doesn’t get done very often for that reason,” Roberts said. “The fact that we’re doing it with a small cast of 11 is part of that challenge. Sondheim music is more complicated than average music. It’s also more beautiful and exciting than the average music.”

Roberts is confident the talented cast will pull it off.

“They’ve put a lot of work in on their own so they arrived the first day of rehearsal really well-prepared,” Roberts said. “We have some really talented high school kids. That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about. When they first contacted me about directing the show, I said I wanted to have actual kids playing the kids, which people don’t normally do. We found these amazingly talented high school kids. So I’m really thrilled they are part of the show.”

Three high school students are appearing in the show: Franklin Community junior Caleb Wertz (Tobias Ragg), Crawfordsville senior  Elizabeth Hutson (Johanna) and Herron junior John Collins (Anthony Hope). Fitzgerald plays Mrs. Lovett.

Johnna Tavianini, Ball State Department Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre Voice, will provide the musical direction.

“She has taken a score that is usually done with a 20-person orchestra and scaled it down to five,” Farrell said.

Sweeney Todd

Where: The Studio Theater at the Center for the Performing Arts, Carmel.

When:  Jan. 29 to Feb. 14. Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Discounted ticket rate of $25 on Wednesdays.

Tickets: Visit atistage.org.

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