David Sweeny didn’t really come into his own as an artist until he decided to become someone else.
Clad in a hot pink suit, giant metal owl medallion and rocking his signature sunglasses—it’s the shades that complete the transformation—Sweeny looks and acts every inch the star.
Mexican kids from the neighborhood stop and stare as he struts around 9th Street in South Philly, posing for photograph after photograph, a born ham. As flashes pop, he comes alive in the light: twirling a flower in his teeth, leaping up onto his toes, vamping with all the subtlety of a Vegas showgirl having a Black Swan moment.
Inspired, he pulls out a guitar, plops down onto the stoop and strums a tune.
“We got to be sensual, but not sexual, because I’m ma-a-a-rried,” he croons into the evening air, entertaining the kids drinking beer outside across the street in front of Teri’s bar.
“Oh, it’s Johnny!” yells a voice.
It’s Connie, owner of nearby venue of Connie’s Ric Rac, a stage that’s been mopped of its fair share of Sweeny’s sweat. She smiles and they hug.
Right now, the man in pink is not David Sweeny, Philadelphia theater artist who is currently acting in Lantern Theater Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or the 30-year-old married South Philly guy who earns extra cash acting as a patient.
No. When the shades are on, lip curled back and hair looking like it was combed with a pork chop, David Sweeny is Johnny Showcase—lounge singer, lady lover, middle-aged raconteur poet.
As a student back in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, Sweeny was an aspiring musician. He played trumpet, worshipped Michael Jackson and obsessed over soul and funk records. But when he had the disheartening realization that he probably wasn’t ever going to be the best at his instrument, he decided to become an actor.
“My parents said, ‘We love what you do but you’ll have to choose a back-up plan,’ recalls Sweeny.
His response came out of nowhere, surprising everyone—including himself.
He retorted, “I’ll be a lounge singer.”
“And that was the seed of Johnny Showcase,” he nods gravely.
In the interim, Sweeny graduated high school, moved from Rhode Island to Philadelphia to study acting at University of the Arts and got the requisite artists’ gig slinging drinks at World Café Live. At the time, fellow employees Jeffrey Marsh and Rick Sorkin were bringing their popular Cabaret Mélange show to World Cafe after a successful two-year run at L’Etage.