BWW Review: Utah Repertory Theater's SWEENEY TODD Is A Reminder Of What Happens When A Person's Heart Is Guided Completely By Revenge
Utah Repertory Theater and the new Noorda Theatre on the Utah Valley University Campus have teamed together this Halloween season to bring the cautionary tale of Sweeney Todd, Sondheim's reminder of what happens when a person's heart is guided completely by revenge. When the show was first announced, there was great excitement that Utah's own Will Swenson was going to take on the lead roll, however due to a schedule conflict, last month it was announced that he would be replaced by Broadway Alumni Jeff McCarthy. While I was initially disappointed, I did get the chance to see McCarthy as Officer Lockstock in Urinetown on Broadway, so I was intrigued to see what he could bring to the role of Sweeney.
Upon arriving at the Noorda, it was clear that the use of fog was perhaps in a bit over abundance as it was seeping into the lobby. Entering into the theater, the set represented the gloomy London scenery of the turn of the century and the industrial era when as Todd says only a few are successful at the top and everyone else labors. Set designer Josh Steadmen has done a fine job of capturing the gloomy feel that is so important to the story.
I really enjoyed the orchestra conducted by Jeanne McGuire, and am always thrilled when a production takes the time and financial effort to have live music as a part of a show. In particular, the keyboardist Mark Johnson stood out because of the complications of the parts within the score, and how well all of the musicians executed the masterful score.
In the lovely second number, There's No Place Like London, I was struck by the stark difference between McCarthy's Todd and Jadon Webster as Anthony. Upon casual observation it might seem that McCarthy is almost aloof in his anger, but having seen three fantastic productions of Sweeney Todd in the last year or so, from Pioneer and a very intimate experience off-Broadway, I found McCarthy's performance to be haunting in its preciseness of anger. When juxtaposed next to Webster's young hope, it seemed even more tired and full of pain and anguish. In my day job I spend my days counseling people who have been through intense trauma, and I could see trauma written in the movement, the face, and the vocals of McCarthy. It was that depth of performance that left me believing that he could tragically make some of the choices that lead to some of the even more tragic elements of the show, and I found McCarthy's Sweeney to be one of the best I have seen.
Additionally, Jacquelyne Jones was just as entertaining and flawless as Mrs. Lovett, the woman who steps in to help Mr. Todd in his quest for revenge, while she is on a quest of her own. In my opinion, one of the best and most complicated female roles ever written, Jones balances the comedy of songs like a Little Priest with the sweetness in Nothing's Gonna Harm you with ease. She is well matched with the sweet Davis Underwood as Tobias Ragg, who has a crystal clear voice and perfect mannerisms for the role. His twist at the end was probably one of the most haunting I have ever scene.
Another character that I felt really stood out was the beggar woman played by Adrien Swenson. A role that does not reveal its importance until later in the show, Swenson may have performed this role better than anyone I have ever seen before. Her ability to show the behavior of someone who has been driven mad while still having some moments of clarity was so on point that I found myself on the edge of my seat, wishing the other characters would stop and listen to her counsel.
The choice of staging of the side characters in boxes on the side, representing the way we are boxed in our places was an interesting choice by director Tim Threlfall, and added to the creepy factor of the show in a way that I appreciated. I also felt that the musical harmonies were strong and the ensemble was well conducted by musical director Anne Puzey. Some of the side characters were not as strong or memorable, and the choreography was decent but not an element that stood out. Overall, I found the production very favorable, and I have been glad that Utah has lately embraced Sweeney Todd, as it is a classic among theater lovers and serves as a great reminder of forgetting to see what is right in front of us when we are so focused on what we can not forgive.
Utah Repertory Theater Company's and the Noorda's co-production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays in the Smith Theater of the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Utah Valley University Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM through November 9, 2019, with a matinee on Saturday, November 2, 2019, at 2 PM. Tickets are $35-45. For more information, visit Utah Rep's website.
Maren Scriven has been reviewing live theatre in Utah since 2010. She is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a staff member at Utah Theatre Bloggers Association.