Following a long postponement due to COVID, Trinity Rep’s production of SWEENEY TODD has been well worth the wait.

By: Jun. 01, 2023

Trinity Repertory Company’s production of SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET went through quite an ordeal to see the light of day. Originally slated for the company’s 2019-2020 season, Executive Director Kate Liberman explained before the show about the theatre’s forced closure due to COVID and its long trek back to the stage. But thanks to Artistic Director Curt Columbus’ passion for the musical, it surfaced again as the closing production of the 2022-2023 season, and speaking as a longtime fan of the show, it has been well worth the wait.

Considered a masterpiece of musical theatre, Sweeney Todd contains music and lyrics by the late Stephen Sondheim and originally premiered on Broadway in 1979. Winning the Tony Award for Best Musical, the show has been revived numerous times regionally, in New York City, and internationally, including the current award-winning production on Broadway starring Josh Groban in the title role. It was even turned into a motion picture starring Johnny Depp and directed by Tim Burton in 2007.

Trinity does this legacy justice, and the show’s cast is perfection. Erick Pinnick’s Sweeney Todd is more smoldering anguish than bombastic anger, but this underscores the tragedy and pathos that is at the heart of the character. This approach to Todd also makes him an ideal partner to Rachael Warren’s Mrs. Lovett, who nails the character’s physical comedy with occasionally sinister undertones. No song in the show underlines how well the actors in these roles compliment each other better than “A Little Priest,” which ends Act I on a darkly funny note.

As grim as the musical’s subject matter may be, it is, also, humorous throughout. This is exemplified earlier in the first act with Kai Thomani Tshikosi as Adolfo Pirelli, the snake oil salesman, who goes toe to toe against Sweeney Todd in an impromptu cheek-shaving and tooth-pulling contest. Tshikosi punctuates his scenes with over-the-top bravado which makes the role hilarious. Alexander Crespo-Rosario II is at turns funny and heartbreaking as Tobias, who begins as Pirelli’s shill and ends by hawking Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies. In Act I his dancing is almost Oompa-Loompa-like, but he plays the serious scenes just as well, offering a sincere and touching rendition of “Not While I’m Around” later in Act II.

Another fitting pair are Stephen Thorne as the slimy Judge Turpin and Sophie Zmorrod, who nails the brazenly corrupt attitude, and pompous vanity of Beadle Bamford, while also finding moments to pepper in moments of humor. Meanwhile, Taavon Gamble as Anthony Hope and Myka Cue as the Beggar Woman, both bring incredible singing voices and pathos filled choices that make their characters stand out in a way that is not always the case.

Fans of the original Broadway production will immediately notice similarities between the classic “rotating cube” set piece and what is on-stage here, and that is no accident. Eugene Lee, who won the Tony for Best Scenic Design of the original production was also Trinity Rep’s resident scenic designer. Before his passing earlier this year, he and longtime collaborator Patrick Lynch co-designed and finalized their concepts for the piece. But while there are similarities in the physical structure, the presentation is not a carbon copy of the original design. Rather than solid walls, curtains are raised and lowered to denote the different settings. This also allows action to take place inside the cube as well as on the top.

Sweeney Todd is, at heart, a show on the nature of justice, and Trinity leans into this theme by quite literally having the actors start the show dressed as either prison inmates or staff related to where their character falls within the tale. It is a specific reminder that although the story is meant to take place in the mid-1800s, the themes of wrongful imprisonment and corruption in the legal system are, unfortunately, issues that continue to plague society. Trinity should also be commended for including several original scenes that are not often portrayed, such as the tooth-pulling contest between Pirelli and Todd, the Judge’s self-flagellant version of “Johanna,” as well as the extended “Parlor Songs” sequence with Beadle Bamford in Act II. The additional layers that are unveiled by the characters involved are definitely worth the additional run time.

Sweeney Todd’s masterpiece status is cemented by Trinity Rep’s powerful production and whether this is your first time seeing the show or far from it, this version should not be missed.

Sweeney Todd runs at Trinity Rep in the Dowling Theater through June 25, 2023. Tickets start at $27 and are available online at Click Here or by contacting the ticket office at (401) 351-4242.

Pictured: Rachael Warren as Mrs. Lovett and Erick Pinnick as Sweeney Todd. Photo by Mark Turek.

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