BWW Review: SWEENEY TODD at Connecticut Repertory Theatre

BWW Review: SWEENEY TODD at Connecticut Repertory TheatreThe orchestra begins to play a quiet, foreboding melody as the cast takes the stage inviting the audience to "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd", soon with a signature factory whistle the man himself, malicious, glaring and exuding an air of evil appears center stage. Thus begins what, for many, is an unlikely favorite musical, Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's SWEENEY TODD. And, thus also begins Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT)'s current production of the hit musical. From that point on, though, all bets are off as the next 2 hours are filled with a performance that is fresh, exciting, and downright chilling, and is certainly something not to be missed.

SWEENEY TODD is an unconventional story for a musical, and has been ever since it opened on Broadway in 1979. Set in 19th century London, the play tells the tale of an unjustly imprisoned barber, Sweeney Todd (Terrence Mann) hell bent on taking revenge on the judge (Ed Dixon) who destroyed his life by sending him away and taking his daughter, Johanna (Emilie Kouatchou) as his ward. He does this by opening a shop and shaving (and slicing the throats of) the men of Fleet Street while waiting for his chance at the judge. But what to do with all the bodies? Enter Mrs. Lovett (Liz Larsen) the owner of the pie shop downstairs who comes up with an unconventional (and completely sinister) way of disposing of the evidence - bake them into her pies. It may sound gruesome, but it makes for one thrilling musical, in more ways than one.

Billed as "A Musical ThrillerBWW Review: SWEENEY TODD at Connecticut Repertory Theatre in Concert", CRT's SWEENEY TODD is far from just a concert. It is a fully staged, tour-de-force of a musical. From the first chord to the final whistle, the Jorgensen Theatre stage is filled with a supremely talented cast that share the woeful tale of the barbarous barber and his culinary accomplice. As the murderous title character, Terrence Mann is other-worldly. The actor (who also serves as CRT's Artistic Director), was born to play this role. From the first moment he sets foot on stage, the chills begin - looking into his empty and broken face you just know this is not someone you want to meet in a dark alley (or barber shop, for that matter). Mr. Mann wraps his luscious baritone-bass voice around each of Sweeney's songs with such care and focus, it is hard to believe he hasn't held Sweeney's razors before. Equally thrilling is Liz Larsen's portrayal of Mrs. Lovett. There are many sides to a character like hers, and Ms. Larsen plays each part beautifully - from down on her luck and cynical, to doe eyed and infatuated, and yes, even murderous and unscrupulous, her Mrs. Lovett is a thrill to watch. Separately, these two Broadway legends are great, but together, they light the stage on fire. Every scene they have together feels like you are watching something rare and special, making you want to savor each and every moment. This is especially apparent during the first act closing number "A Little Priest". The comic timing and energetic playfulness between the two during this audience favorite had people rolling in the aisles with laughter.

BWW Review: SWEENEY TODD at Connecticut Repertory TheatreWhile SWEENEY TODD does center around this nefarious twosome, the rest of the cast is the icing on the cake. As the evil Judge Turpin, Ed Dixon is slimy, sinister and someone you just love to hate. Turpin is typically played as a cold, calculated man, but Mr. Dixon makes some inspired choices with his portrayal, making Turpin a bit of a caricature of London high-society - oblivious to anything other than his deepest desires. As the Beggar Woman, Andréa Burns is also a thrill to watch - singing her dismissed warnings of "City on Fire" and crawling around the streets seeking a handout. Lu DeJesus plays a foppish Beadle Bamford and is deliciously subservient to the Judge's every whim. As Johanna and her infatuated beau, Anthony Hope, Emilie Kouatchou and Hugh Entrekin are excellent. They both display golden voices in each of their songs. Theirs is the love story, the one shining light in the darkness that inhabits the show. Nicholas Gonzalez' Pirelli is hilarious as he struts around touting his great skill (emphasized by one of the dozens of amazing costumes by Christina Lorraine Bullard). As his assistant, Tobias, Kenneth Galm is wide-eyed and full of energy. He shows off a gorgeous tenor voice in each of his numbers, but especially in the heartfelt "Not While I'm Around". And finally, the ensemble does a great job weaving the tale for the audience and serving as various victims and witnesses to this troublesome tale.

Director Peter Flynn makes some brilliant choices in his staging of this classic. In many cases he goes for simplicity without sacrificing the story. The two-story set (designed by Tim Brown) is relatively static, with the exception of a well-used staircase, and includes the orchestra center stage during the whole show (perhaps BWW Review: SWEENEY TODD at Connecticut Repertory Theatrethis is what makes it a "concert"?) The tension is constant and punctuated by Alan C. Edwards' exquisite lighting design and Michael Vincent Skinner's Sound design. Worth noting is the creative use of lighting to signal each death - a very effective way to make the point without having to deal with a lot of stage blood. Ken Clifton serves as music director and conductor, and along with the 12-piece orchestra, brings Sondheim's score to vivid life.

All in all, every moment of CRT's SWEENEY TODD is a thrill to watch and is probably one of the best productions of this classic musical this reviewer has had the pleasure to see. The cast is top notch and the creative direction is inspired making for an extremely thrilling (and chilling) night of theatre.

SWEENEY TODD by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) runs at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT through July 1. Evening performances start at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinee performances start at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Subscription package options range from $84 to $117. Single tickets prices start at $48. For additional ticket information or to purchase tickets by phone, call 860.486.2113. To purchase tickets online, visit www.crt.uconn.edu.

Top Photo Credit - Liz Larsen as Mrs. Lovett and Terrence Mann as Sweeney Todd in SWEENEY TODD directed by Peter Flynn, onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre thru July 1, 2018. Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Mid Photo Credit - Andréa Burns (The Beggar Woman) and Terrence Mann (Todd) SWEENEY TODD directed by Peter Flynn, in onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre thru July 1, 2018. Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Mid-Photo #2 - Ed Dixon as Judge Turpin in SWEENEY TODD onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre thru July 1, 2018. Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Bottom Photo Credit -Terrence Mann in the title role in SWEENEY TODD directed by Peter Flynn, onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre thru July 1, 2018. Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photo by Gerry Goodstein

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