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Review: SWEENEY TODD-THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at Seacoast Repertory Theatre

Review: SWEENEY TODD-THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at Seacoast Repertory Theatre

A deadly barber gives a close shave on stage.

The Seacoast Repertory Theatre's current production of "Sweeney Todd," is terrifying, spellbinding, attention getting, goose bump creating, and absolutely frightening in every aspect and not for the faint of heart. But also know that it is a musical treat that's amusing, entertaining, and hilarious in the same breath.

And in the hands of this mighty little theater, the quality and professionalism of this show equals the likes of any other theater--small, large, little city, big city-- anywhere. It is destined to be the highlight of the fall theater season in coastal NH and Maine region.

The show opens with the number "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," performed by an ensemble of many regulars at the Rep. It is just a small taste of the extraordinary supporting cast that slinks across the stage singing the dissonant harmonies of Stephen Sondheim's with sheer perfection. The voices blend flawlessly with cutting edge choreography and a lighting design that gives the cast a haunting and slightly demonic quality.

The tale of Sweeney Todd (Brett W. Mallard) is a tragic one. Once a barber in London, he was banished for many years by a self-centered Judge Turpin (Jamie Bradley) who pursued Sweeney's wife, Lucy and eventually became a lustful ward to Todd's daughter, Johanna (Shaina Schwartz). The show opens as Todd has returned to his home in hopes of seeking revenge on the domineering judge. He has been guided there by a young sailor, Anthony Hope (Sam Rogers) who is ready to make his life in the magnificent city of London.

To reestablish his life, Todd befriends Mrs. Lovett (Alyssa Dumas) who owns a failing pie shop (her competition is rumored to be killing cats to stuff meat pies!) agrees to rent a room above her shop to Todd. It doesn't take long for Lovett to realize that Todd is, in fact, the exiled barber once known as Benjamin Barker. Lovett, who always had a fondness for Todd, presents him with his former barbering blades and encourages him to start his barber shop once again with a dream of enacting revenge to Judge Turpin and his doting servant, Beadle Bamford (Tobin Moss.)

There's an odd set of circumstances that connect Todd with a shyster, barber named Pirelli (Ben Hart) and his innocent assistant, Tobias Ragg (Jason Faria) in a scene of dueling barbers which he wins handily. When Pirelli learns that Todd is the former Barker, he extorts him for a part of his profits. If he refuses the deal, his identity will be revealed. Todd takes matters into his own hands, literally, as he kills Pirelli, by slicing his throat with a razor blade.

Here is where the show makes a wonderful twist. Todd must find a way to dispose of Pirelli's corpse discretely. Lovett's meat pie business is on the brink because the meat supply is expensive and dwindling. In an over-the-top number, "A Little Priest," she proposes that the corpse be grinded up and baked into the meat pies. In fact, she thinks that Todd could slice up any number of unsuspecting wanderers who venture into his barber shop. So, a modern day "Shark Tank" idea is born, and Lovett's new pie mixture is a resounding success.

To complete the plan, Todd secures an elegant barber chair with a stainless steel body and plush upholstery. The most unique feature is that with the pull of a handle on the chair, his recently sliced victims can easily slide through a chute to the basement where they end up in the meat grinder. This staging prop might well create a nightmare or two.

Mallard is the perfect Sweeney Todd. (Ironically, he performed the role 27 years ago at the Seacoast Rep.) Maniacal, impulsive, and terrorizing, his character is brilliantly done. Rising to the occasion, Dumas is the perfect Mrs. Lovett. Comically gifted with a commanding voice and a rich subtle performance, she transforms remarkably from lighthearted shop owner to conniving cohort. The duo blend seamlessly in a strong performance. Mallard is ever so haunting in "Barber and His Wife" and "Epiphany." Dumas shows her comic side in "A Little Priest" and "By the Sea."

Rogers, as the young sailor, and Schwartz, his love interest, are both talented vocalists as the tackle some of the most operatic and challenging pieces that Sondheim ever penned. Rogers manages the melodic tune of "Johanna," while Schwartz shows her best soprano voice with "Green Finch & Linnet Bird." The team are explosive as they take on the impossible tune, "Kiss Me," almost without taking a breath.

Hart shows a comic flair as Pirelli especially in his number, "The Contest." Moss is the ultimate tenor in "Ladies in Their Sensitivities." Bradley is a wonderfully despicable man who shows a softer side in "Pretty Women."

Once you think you've heard every astounding voice possible, Faria takes center stage about halfway through Act II with the number "Not While I'm Around." Faria is small in stature but has one of the most powerful voices I've ever heard. His voice soars about the theater. It is beyond amazing. Too bad his character's descent into madness is so disturbing.

Artistic directors and set designers, Ben Hart and Brandon James use every single space available in the small stadium seating theater. In this production, cast members come from all directions even appearing in and out of the audience. It is effective and a bit scary.

It is also uncanny how the directing duo casts from its regular repertory company. Everybody fits perfectly in their roles. I guess the talent is remarkably adaptable as no one seems pegged into a role that doesn't fit them.

Costume designer DW cuts no corners in creating authentic period costumes with some of them on display in the lobby. I was only confused by a few gender bending corsets that seemed a bit out of place as they were on both men and women.

Be sure to see this show, particularly, since it is not often performed. For an extra special experience, try to get a seat as close to the stage as possible. You will feel immersed in a theater experience like no other.


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