BWW Review: Theatre TCU's SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at Scott Theatre
Texas Christian University's production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opens with eerie anticipatory underscoring, interrupted by the spine-chilling scraping sound of a razor that we would later hear rather frequently as the plot unfolded.
With music and lyrics by the celebrated Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, this vulgar delight of a production is no small undertaking; however, the students and faculty of TCU's Theatre department proved they were certainly up to the challenge. I find that oftentimes with college-level theatre, due to talent availability and limited resources, productions are forced to sacrifice portions of their substance and professionalism. This was not the case with TCU's Sweeney Todd. I found within the first few lingering notes sung by the ensemble that I was in for a well thought out, professional theatre experience loaded with student talent.
Director and TCU Theatre Department Chair Harry Parker set out to draw the audience into Fleet Street's reality from the very start as the ensemble members meandered from side entrances of the wings and onto the stage. Throughout the show, characters often singled out audience members in concentrated stares, direct rhetorical dialogue, and movement. During "City on Fire", a song sung by the distressed mentally afflicted townspeople later in Act II, the audience had the chilling pleasure of coming in close contact with the characters as they sauntered up the aisles in crazed movement and melody.
Logan Lane, third-year Theatre TCU student, portrayed the role of Sweeney Todd in respectable fashion, truly presenting the embodiment of Sweeney's mad and vengeful personality traits. We see Lane deliver an intense and emotionally filled performance from start to finish, aided by his vocal abilities. Lane's portrayal also brings humane context to the stage, reminding the audience of the twisted nature motivation can take on when a person is hurting for something or someone they love.
Sydney Kirkegaard, fourth year TCU Theatre performer, executed an outstanding performance of lead character and sole friend of Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Ellie Lovett. If I had the authority to present the college-level equivalent of a TONY, Kirkegaard would easily collect that honor. Her ingenious comedic timing was presented with clarity from the moment her desperately frenzied and eccentric character took the stage. We are introduced to Kirkegaard's character in her song "The Worst Pies In London", as she pounds meat piecrust dough with hilarious, crazed vigor and mad enthusiasm. She never fails to produce an audience laugh with her hysterical gestures and subtly brilliant expressions in the midst of what is overwhelmingly a dark production.
We see Kirkegaard and Lane begin to develop their perverted, but somewhat maintainable, relationship in their duet "My Friends", in which Sweeney Todd personifies his treasured razors as his tried-and-true "friends" in his past and, as we learn, in his future murderous ventures.
Mackenna Milbourn also wowed the audience with her vocal abilities in her role of Sweeney Todd's beloved and graceful daughter Johanna, especially in her introductory solo song "Green Finch and Linnet Bird". She first appears in delicate pure blue colors surrounded by symbols of growth and life in the form of flowers and birds, acting in blatant contrast to the dark overtones of death present throughout the rest of the show. Milbourn's character provides an element of innocence in a perverted context of violence, and she executes this concept wonderfully well.
Costume Designer Christine Gale and Scene & Lighting Designer Michael Skinner's visions aligned seamlessly in creating an eerie and disturbed visual appearance for both the setting and the characters themselves. The ensemble characters dressed in raggedy muted colors mirrored the attributes of the environment in their distraught, haunted, and troubling appearances. They dress and act as if their very souls have taken on the nature of the acts performed on Fleet Street. Additionally, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality and functionality of the set, which had various entrances, exits, and levels that allowed for variability in location throughout the show. The central movable piece structured to be Mrs. Lovett's pie shop with Sweeney Todd's barber shop upstairs and their residence inside was artfully arranged and used throughout the show to demonstrate various locations within the mid-19th century London city setting.
TCU's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was a professionally executed performance with notable performances by students previously mentioned as well as Jake Clemmons (Anthony Hope), Carly Wheeler (Beggar Woman), Quinn Moran (Judge Turpin), and Collins Rush (Adolfo Pirelli), among many others.
The show opened on April 19th, with remaining performances on Thursday 4/20 and Friday 4/21 at 7:30pm, Saturday 4/22 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm, as well as Sunday 4/23 at 2:30pm. The performances will be held at the Scott Theatre in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Tickets are $15.00 for adults and $10.00 for any students, seniors, or TCU faculty/staff and can be purchased on the TCU Theatre website or by calling the box office at 817-257-8080.
Photo by Amy Peterson.