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Review: SWEENEY TODD at Ephrata Performing Arts Center

Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has gone through numerous interpretations since opening on Broadway in 1979. The original production was often described as "Grand Guignol". The story of a wronged barber-turned-escaped-convict and his revenge on those who wronged he and his family was bloody and dark.

In the 40 years since the original came out, we have had versions of the musical as diverse as "Goth Sweeney", ""Dinner Theater from Hell Sweeney", "Disco Sweeney", and by far, the most horrific of them all, "Batman Sweeney". Most recently, Ephrata Performing Arts Center and director Ed Fernandez have added their own unique vision of this classic tale.

Sean Young and Bobbi Bear play Sweeney Todd and his partner in crime, Mrs Lovett. Young's singing and speaking voice has a clear deep register that is especially adept in expressing menace. Bear's voice and demeanor is complimentary with a more energetic, bubbly quality. The pair have good chemistry together.

Kayla Klase and Brad DeLeone play the young lovers of the show, Johanna and Anthony. Both of them hit the marks vocally and emotionally as required by the roles.

Richard Bradbury plays Judge Turpin. Bradbury's performance comes across very bland. He shows few signs of the physical, mental, and emotional intimidation that this role requires. The more the audience hates the judge, the easier it is for us to justify Sweeney's plans for revenge. Preston Schreffler picks up some of the slack as the Beadle. He plays the Judge's toady as a total creep and dominates their scenes together.

Other standout roles include the humorous Pirelli (Jordon Ross Weinhold), the child-like Toby (Rogan Motter), and the mysterious beggar woman (Stacia Smith). These actors along with a talented chorus provide a solid stage presence.

The set, costumes, and staging of the show could best be described as non-traditional. The time period of the show is ambiguous, but is it definitely not the mid 1800's of London. Various characters wear Chuck Taylor tennis shoes, bright pink wigs, and fashionable eyeglasses. Mrs. Lovett has a toaster oven on her counter. I was half expecting Sweeney to use a Norelco Beard Trimmer on his victims.

These choices were interesting to look at, but not immediately clear in their purpose. Were they supposed to be making a specific statement or merely eye candy? I wasn't sure, and I worry that it would be especially confusing for an audience member unfamiliar with the play.

The industrial look of the set was reminiscent of a factory with tall brick columns and metallic towers. This seemed to be a tip of the hat to the original Broadway production created by Hal Prince and a grim reflection on the industrial revolution. For the most part, this style was effective. The one exception was the decision to have the trap door associated with Sweeney's chair end up on the entire other side of the stage placed on a higher level, defying gravity.

In conclusion, Ephrata Performing Arts Center must be commended for taking artistic risks. They have a long standing and well-deserved reputation for both presenting uncommon productions and common productions in new and exciting ways. They swing for the fences every single time.

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is playing through November 4th at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center. Tickets and more information can be found at their website.

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