BWW Reviews: Macabre Meat Pies - The Little Theatre of Alexandria's SWEENEY TODD
This is not your ordinary musical. Not. At. All. There are no elaborate tap dance numbers, no catchy sugar-pop show tunes, no grand finale romantic embraces. Good does not prevail over evil in this production. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find "good" at all embedded within Stephen Sondheim's musical creation. This is a musical in which you stop at intermission, stunned, and double-check that you're in the right place - and that the performance taking place before you is reality.
After you've double-checked your playbill and realize that you are, in fact, in the right place, the only thing you can do is sit back and try to comprehend what is unfolding in front of your eyes: The Little Theatre of Alexandria's current production of Sweeney Todd. A musical that redefines the musical genre.
Sweeney Todd, as played by Harv Lester, is a man returning home to London many years after being falsely accused, convicted, and arrested by the disturbing Judge Turpin (played by Chris Gillespie). Upon Todd's sentencing, Turpin took Todd's wife for his own and raised Todd's only child under the guise that she is Turpin's own blood. Scorned by Turpin's ruthlessness, Todd is consumed with thoughts of revenge and makes his way back to his old home in London to scheme and plot Turpin's downfall. His home is now run by Mrs. Lovett, as played by Jenn Lyon who is also consumed by demonic thoughts of her own: greed at any cost.
The demon barber of Fleet Street quickly learns that the anger and fury he has suppressed for so many years can be eerily relieved through murder - repeated murders, with no specific target in mind. Todd becomes the town barber who offers more than just a close shave to his customers. His victims arrive, one-by-one, for a simple shave and Sunday afternoon conversation. And, one-by-one, he slits the throats of his customers and dispatches his victims by pulling a lever as they sit in his barber chair. His victims fall backward down a revolving trapdoor into the basement of his shop.
But this is only the beginning. After robbing the dead victims of their goods, Mrs. Lovett, his new pie-shop-owner-turned-partner-in-crime, assists Todd in disposing of the bodies by baking their flesh into meat pies and selling them to the unsuspecting customers of her pie shop.
A musical complete with revenge, vicious murder, insanity, and (because no musical is complete without it) cannibalism. Love is sprinkled in bits and pieces (pun intended) throughout the production, but truly no audience member pays attention to the romantic plotlines. Paired against cannibalism, budding sunshine-and-butterflies-love doesn't stand a chance. One scene in particular, hilarious solely for its complete misplacement, involves harmonizing birds and a Romeo-and-Juliet-style take on youthful love and devotion. It does nothing more than emphasize the complete insanity of the true plot at hand.
Regardless of the macabre nature of the production, the LTA does a wondrous job of putting on a production worthy of any full-scale professional theater. With direction by Andrew JM Regiec and Musical Direction by Elisa Rosman. Lester and Pagnard are clearly the stars of the show and successfully portray two truly maddening characters. While Todd exceptionally portrays the role of a madman, it is Pagnard who more subtly reflects a character devoid of her wits. On the surface, Mrs. Lovett is normal in most every sense of the word - one need only to step back and reflect upon the fact that she is baking human victims into meat pies to refresh one's memory, in a jarring manner, regarding her insanity. Balancing this fine line of portrayal between an emotionally-balanced woman and her not-so-balanced thoughts and actions is reflective of Pagnard's true talent.
Rosman's musical direction is expertly crafted for the carrying out of Sweeney Todd. The complete absurdity and lunacy of Todd can seem almost comical at points throughout the production. However, Rosman's perfected musical accompaniment keeps the tone of the production in check and makes it clear that evil is, most certainly, lurking. The musical numbers are dramatic, dooming, and exceptionally on cue, and Rosman should be commended many times over for truly eliciting the disturbing and demonic nature of Sweeney Todd.
For something that will shake you to your core, don't miss this production. But leave the kids at home.
From This Author Christine Kowal