BWW Review: Savor Skylight's Exceptional SWEENEY TODD
Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street arrived at the Skylight Music Theatre last weekend to dazzle audiences with the American songwriter's brilliant, exquisite lyrics and melodies complimented by Hugh Wheeler's book. A story resurrected from an old three penny publication titled String of Pearls adapted from a 1976 Christopher Bond play retells a dark, almost demonic yet ultimately redemptive tale revealing the horrors of revenge and the power of love through this award-winning musical with songs such as "Johanna," "Pretty Women," and "By the Sea."
The story unfolds when Sweeney Todd returns to London to extract his revenge on Judge Turpin, an excellent actor Randall Dodge. Judge Turpin stole Todd's wife and then kept his daughter as his ward, while sending Todd to prison for 15 years. After Todd's return from an Australian prison, he opens another barber service above Mrs. Lovett's failing meat pie shop in order to revenge the judge. Andrew Varela, of the Skylight's Wizard of Oz and Les Miserables, captures a devilish although likable Sweeney motivated by punishing those who destroyed his family. Paired with Christiana Hall's Mrs. Lovett, the two conjure a plan to use Todd's numerous bodies that happen waiting for Judge Turpin together with Lovett's knack from making English Meat Pies into a bizarre but oddly beautiful musical adventure.
Set in early 19th century London, Fleet Street, homeless people abounded on the streets, as do orphans, searching for food, rarely missed if there were never seen. This includes Mrs. Lovett's apprentice, Tobias, a very sincere and sympathetic Ryan Stajminger. The three Londoners bake their way to great success, finding riches, while Lucas Patrana's Anthony woos the beautiful Joanna, the young and musically skilled Kelly Scott, from the clutches of Judge Turpin. One memorable scene, when Turpin places Johanna in a mental institution where Anthony saves her creates another ghostlike and disturbing turn of events, one of many in the production, eerily dressed in Jason Orlenko's costumes.
Director Matthew Ozawa directs this visually sparse production to focus on developing emotional characters and the multi-faceted story which includes the cameo role of the beggar women played by Susan Spencer. On Charles Murdock Lucas's sculptural and bone-like, a skeletal stage that honors the people lost, his stage design allows for multiple story scenes to appear simultaneously. Jason Fassl's expertise in lighting design and Megan Henniger's sound design create the atmosphere of this gritty London and Lovett's ovens, using smoke and red lights for ominous ambiance. The music under Ben Makina's direction of an eight piece ensemble accompanies the cast perfectly.
Sondheim's haunting song "Not While I'm Around" with the lyrics....nothing's going to harm you." foreshadows the ironic ending to Todd's revenge and Lovett's unrequited love. Lies and licentious behavior come to counterbalance Johanna's and Anthony's beautiful rendition of "Kiss Me." These two songs capture the essence of extracting revenge and then loving another person in one's life because Sweeney Todd could neither forget or forgive. Perhaps his family might have been restored when perhaps he would have forgot and forgiven, loved instead of demanded revenge. However, Sondheim pondered these darker, deeper emotions.
But Sondheim delves deeply into the catastrophic consequences of humanity's emotions. For while disastrous results happen, the Skylight's Sweeney Todd exemplifies an excellent production in the intimate Cabot Theatre. For Sondheim fans or those being newly ntroduced to the "Demon Barber of Of Fleet Street," audiences members will thrill to the Skylight's producti presentation of Sweeney Todd. Thoroughly savor the Sondheim's and the Skylight's theatrical artistry and when leaving, beware to notice and then tame those demons that can lie within any man's own soul.
Skylight Music Theatre presents Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street through June 11th. For information on the Skylight's Music Theatre's 2017-2018 season, please call 414.291.7800 or www.skylightmusictheatre.org..