BWW Reviews: SWEENEY TODD at White Plains Performing Arts Center
Upon entering the re-imagined staging of White Plains Performing Arts Center's production of "Sweeney Todd," one is greeted with ear-piercing screams and various zombies on the stage and at a locked gate barring audience entry. Their interactions with the audience and each other, warning us to abandon all pre-conceived notions of other Sweeney Todd's.
Taking my seat in the movie style chairs, I took in the austere set, bleak blood stained walls, more prison than asylum. The actors continued to improvise on the stage as lunatics. I wondered how well this was going to evolve. And then the actors sing, and sing well, uniformly and lushly.
Stephen Sondheim's score certainly didn't need any reimagining, but using this asylum backdrop is an interesting choice. Ultimately staging the production as a memory of Toby's encounters with Sweeney Todd within an asylum doesn't truly come together. But don't let that vision stop you from the engaging performances of a beautiful score filled with many nuanced, moving songs stirred around a Shakespearean tragedy body count.
Steven C. Rich, as Sweeney Todd, completely commands the stage, growing in confidence with a well-supported voice and vacant lost years look. Sweeney yearns to reconnect with his daughter and seek revenge upon his wife's death. The song "My Friends" reunited Sweeney with his beloved barber tools while his movements are mirrored by Toby (Devin Johnson) while revenge is clearly being plotted. Johnson has a clear, piping tenor and a great rapport with Mrs. Lovett. Cassie Hahn as Mrs. Lovett possesses a beautiful voice which I have never really heard in Mrs. Lovett. It works, for she is a great actress and was able to embody the yearning for Sweeney Todd, both passionate and grotesque. "By the Sea" was truly a highlight in the second act between the two of them. Devin Johnson's song "Not While I'm Around" meaningfully conveys his devotion and maternal love for Mrs. Lovett.
The voices meld together wonderfully with a skillful orchestra led by Stephen Ferri, giving robust body and substance to the score, which is not easy to do. The ensemble was able to keep in time with Sondheim's challenging rhythms and that is truly a testament to Stephen Ferri's conducting and musicianship.
Larry Daggett gave Judge Turpin a truly creepy demeanor. The scene when he confesses his desire for his ward Joanna is disturbing. Alan M-L Wager was also very effective at supporting Judge Turpin with his demands. Beth Stafford Laird as Joanna and Anthony Nuccio as Anthony had lovely moments and were especially effective in the "Quartet."
Tiffany Stoker as the Beggar Woman displayed annoying manic energy throughout the show which has one yearning for her demise massively robbing the denouement of its desired impact. In fact the ending is staged all too quickly with bodies piling up without meaning, effect or affect. Garret Guadan gives a highly energetic performance as Adolfo Pirelli and other roles and is especially well sung and acted with a myriad of accents. When he sings "Pretty Women" with Sweeney Todd, you can feel the heightened tension between the two competitors.
I was quite impressed with Jeremy Quinn's vision of having the show set in an asylum; however, I wished that the set design had a little more substance. Jordan Janota's overall tone was true to an austere setting, but it was hard to distinguish between which Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie shop and the mental institution.
All and all, the show was very well done, filled with moving performances - both small and large and is well worth seeing. I applaud WPPAC for having the guts to bring something new to this show and I look forward to their other productions.