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BWW Review: Attend the Tale of SWEENEY TODD in Des Moines—the Perfect Evening After a Year Without Theatre

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BWW Review: Attend the Tale of SWEENEY TODD in Des Moines—the Perfect Evening After a Year Without Theatre
Zachary Nelson as Sweeney Todd
Photo: Duane Tinkey

Attend the tale of a person finding out they get the opportunity to see a show they have wanted to see live for years.
That's where my tale starts. On June 27th, 2019, Des Moines Metro Opera announced its 2020 season to the public. What captured my attention a barber's chair dimly lit by a window above it. There is only one show that this could have been, Stephen Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET.

I had seen the recording of the original production, two filmed concerts, and the movie, but I was going to be able to see it live for the first time. I was extremely excited. As summer of 2020 approached, so did COVID, which forced the opera to postpone its season. I was heartbroken that I wasn't going to be able to see this production. Thankfully, they were able to postpone it to 2021 and use it as their season opener.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Sweeney Todd, it comes from a Victorian 'Penny Dreadful', which tells of a murderous barber. When Christopher Bond adapted it to the stage as a play, he turned Todd into an antihero. Telling the tale through music came when Stephen Sondheim adapted the material into a musical where he provided the music and lyrics with a book by Hugh Wheeler.

The show starts with Sweeney entering London after 15 years in prison. He soon runs into Mrs. Lovett, who tells him his wife had been raped by Judge Turpin. She also tells him that his wife had poisoned herself and their daughter became Turpin's ward. When he finds out about this, he sets out on a journey to seek revenge on Turpin. When another barber figures out that Sweeney is the former Benjamin Barker, he tries to blackmail Todd and becomes Sweeney's first murder victim.

While discussing what to do with the body, Mrs. Lovett presents Sweeney with a proposal: Use the bodies in her meat pies. What does this do for Mrs. Lovett's business, and does Sweeney Todd get his revenge? As Sweeney says in the show, he wouldn't want us to give that away. So to find out, you will have to attend his tale.

BWW Review: Attend the Tale of SWEENEY TODD in Des Moines—the Perfect Evening After a Year Without Theatre
Grace Kahl as Johanna, Ben Edquist
as Anthony. Photo: Duane Tinkey

As you enter the theatre, your eyes can't help but focus on the intricate set designed by R. Keith Brumley. What I loved was how as the story unfolded, so did the set. Each reveal during the show was just as exciting as the previous.
While many productions of Sweeney Todd tend to use a black and white palette for colors, this production is daring and plays against that palette and uses color with the set and Jonathan Kipscher's beautiful costumes.

Another of my favorite technical elements of the show is Kate Ashton's lighting. Her lighting allows Sweeney's shadow to almost look down on stage a the show's opening when he makes his first entrance and also allows the sets to light up and appear to be factory ovens being worked during the show.

All of this is tied together under the fantastic direction of Kristine McIntyre. Her staging puts the audience right in the center of the show's action. It does a beautiful job of transitioning between when the audience is being told what is happening and times where the audience is getting to watch what is happening in the show. It's as though the preverbal fourth wall doesn't exist.

If you are going to tell the story, you need a cast of phenomenal performers who can bring this tale to life on the stage. This has to be two tremendously talented actors to lead this journey for the audience. This performance has just that with Zachary Nelson as Todd and Lucy Schaufer as Mrs. Lovett. Nelson's presence is felt from the top of the show as his shadow looms over the stage. From the moment the curtain comes down, revealing his Sweeney, he has the audience in the palm of his hand. His big and powerful voice allows the audience not just to see but hear and feel the pain that Sweeney has gone through. His portrayal is fun for the audience while at times being bone-chilling.

BWW Review: Attend the Tale of SWEENEY TODD in Des Moines—the Perfect Evening After a Year Without Theatre
Lucy Schaufer as Mrs. Lovett, Zachary Nelson
as Sweeney Todd. Photo by Duane Tinkey

To balance Nelson's Sweeney, an actress is needed who can play the more comedic parts of the show. Schaufer's Lovett does just that. Her comedic timing is perfect from when she enters during "Worst Pies in London" and continues through the show with a highlight being "A Little Priest." But while Schaufer is undoubtedly a comedic Lovett, she also brings much heart to the character, which is seen during "Not While I'm Around."

While Nelson and Schaufer are indeed a dynamic duo on stage, there are a few other duos worth mentioning as well. Ben Edquist and Grace Kahl both do a fantastic job in the roles of Anthony and Johanna. They bring a youthfulness to the characters that reminds you how far people will go to help those they love. What surprised me was the quiet yet intimate "Kiss Me." On the other side of the coin is Corey Bix and Wayne Tigges as Beadle Bamford and Judge Turpin. When we first see them on stage, they do a fantastic job of coming across as the vile characters the show will reveal them to be as it goes on.

The evening continues with a very charismatic performance from Christian Sanders as Tobias. He not only commands the audience's attention whenever he is on stage but exudes a charm that will have the audience members themselves wanting to purchase miracle elixir or meat pies right from him. The cast is rounded out with outstanding performances from Zoe Reams as Beggar Woman, Peter Scott Drakley as Adolfo Pirelli, and Andrew Gilstrap as Jonas Fogg.

Are you someone looking for the right show to return to the theatre? Are you the person who has already started attending the theatre again and looking for another fantastic production to see? If that's you, I highly recommend heading to and the tale at Blank Performing Arts Center.

From the incredible sets and costumes to the terrific direction and the outstandingly superb cast, SWEENEY TODD is a production you won't want to miss. But you must act quickly to see this as tickets for some performances are becoming sold out, or very close to sold out. So hurry over to Des Moines Metro Opera's website and make sure to purchase a ticket before they sell out. To find out more about Des Moines Metro Opera or purchase tickets, visit SWEENEY TODD - Des Moines Metro Opera.

BWW Review: Attend the Tale of SWEENEY TODD in Des Moines—the Perfect Evening After a Year Without Theatre
The chorus of SWEENEY TODD. Photo: Duane Tinkey

Review was written by DC Felton
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