BWW Reviews: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Vista Offers Magnificent SWEENEY TODD

Sweeney Todd/book by Hugh Wheeler/music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim/directed by Steven Glaudini/Moonlight Amphitheatre, Vista/through October 6

Hard to believe, but Sweeney Todd first bowed on Broadway in late 1979 and I was in New York to witness the brilliant achievement of Sondheim, Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou and the entire creative team. It is difficult to find just the right words to express how very much this show affected me when I first saw it. Unlike some, who were abhorred by the subject content, I was mesmerized by much more than the twisted tale of revenge, which did indeed appeal to my dark side. It was the unbelievable staging and brilliant score, which to this day, I believe to be Stephen Sondheim's finest work, which grabbed hold of me and blew me away. It is opera in its most grotesque hour, an overwhelming and overpowering experience. Moonlight Amphitheatre is presenting the masterwork now onstage in Vista through October 6. And there's something to be said for seeing this musical outdoors in the night air, it's even more eerie and chilling: especially if it's a spectacular endeavor, which it truly proves to be with new artistic director Steven Glaudini's clockwork staging, and the exceedingly brilliant work from every member of the top-notch ensemble.

Robert J. Townsend as Benjamin Barker/ Sweeney Todd is thoroughly engaging from the moment he steps onstage. We can see the pain and outrage registered on his face and present in every move he makes and every word he says. He gets feverishly intense as the play progresses. A powerhouse performance! Bets Malone as Mrs. Lovett is a true gem of an actress. She plays a overly calculating woman who has been 'round the block and knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. Her voice is glorious as always and especially captivating in her seductive rendition of "By the Sea". After seeing Miss Malone in many, many musicals, it is obvious she can do it all ... and remarkably well. Jordan Aragon makes Tobey complex, yet precious, and  Jessica Bernard as the Beggar Woman is outstanding, particularly in her second act catharsis as she recollects her past abuse as Lucy. Anthony Carillo as Anthony and Joanna Holliman as Johanna use their gorgeous vocal instruments to the max, as they perfectly convey their love for one another. Jason W. Webb as Beadle Bamford, Jason Maddy as Pirelli, and Randall Doge as Judge Turpin are all superb, as well as the remainder of the cast, under Glaudini's full-out and meticulously detailed direction.
The set, which I assume is the touring set, uncredited, costumes by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone are period spot on, as are lighting design by Jean-Yves Tessier and sound design by Chris Luessmann, so vital to the successful execution of this production.

Sweeney Todd is a lovely crowning achievement for Moonlight Amphitheatre who consistently bring excellent theatre to the Orange County area. Bravo!

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From This Author Don Grigware

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