BWW Review: SWEENEY TODD at Asolo Repertory Theatre
The musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a 1979 thriller featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical is based on a 1973 play of the same name by Christopher Bond. Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 and won the Tony Award for Best MusicalThe Broadway production starred Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, both of whom won Tony Awards for originating the roles of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett.
Before any creative production comes to fruition, whether it is theatre, television or film, it's usually preceded by "pitching" the idea in order to gain investors, casting and distribution. I can only imagine what the "pitch" for Sweeny Todd must have sounded like...
Picture this! The setting will be a dreary, foggy, run-down, smelly, seedy part of old London. The scenery, costumes and lighting will be drab. The cast will be full of despicable characters. There will be a lot of unsavory situations throughout the entire production: rape, enslavement, and murder, lots of murders - a total disregard for human life. It's twisted. It's macabre. Like Hamlet, everybody dies in the end. Times is hard, times is hard. It's a murderous musical! People will love it!
Sounds like a hard sell, but love it they did. The production went on to enjoy numerous revivals as well as a film adaptation starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Maybe this wouldn't have come as far as it had if not for the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. For those who can stomach the gruesome idea the plot brings to life, you will enjoy the candid dialogue and magnificent music & lyrics.
Sweeny Todd (Allen Fitzpatrick) is the story of a man with one thing on his mind - vengeance! By the time he arrives back in London after being wrongly sent to an Australian prison, the now aged barber's obsession consumes him, his sanity eludes him and he will stop at nothing to satisfy his appetency for retribution. As the story goes, wealthy Judge Turpin (James Ramlet) had an eye for the young barber's wife, the fair and beautiful Lucy (Sarah Ochs). Taking advantage of his lofty position, corrupting the law was easy and Turpin was able to place blame on Todd, (back then known as Benjamin Barker), send him away, and capture his wife and baby daughter Johanna (Elizabeth Hawkinson).
Anthony (Perry Sherman), a naïve young sailor befriends Todd on his return to London and promises to keep in touch as they part. Todd enters a meat pie bakery on Fleet Street, where the owner, an unkempt, frisky widow, Mrs. Lovett (Sally Wingert) complains about the scarcity of meat and few customers by proudly singing, "Worst Pies in London". When Todd asks if he could rent her empty upstairs apartment, she shares that the former tenant, a barber named Benjamin Barker, was framed on charges by a corrupt judge who, along with his servant, Beadle Bamford, (Colin Anderson) lured Barker's wife Lucy to the Judge's home and raped her. She assured him it drove Lucy to madness and she committed suicide. This further deepens Todd's passion for revenge. He reveals himself to Mrs. Lovett but she knew it was he all along. She also knows Lucy is still alive but doesn't care to share that with Todd. She does reunite him with his old box of precious and expensive razors that she kept for him. By reuniting Todd with his razors Mrs. Lovett now provides him with the means for his revenge and he in return can supply her with meat for her pies. Don't stop reading now - we're just getting started!
There are twists and turns that unfold that will keep your attention to the very end. And that ending! For those who know the story, you deserve to see Asolo's fine production in action. It does not disappoint. For those who do not know what happens, I'm not going to spoil it for you. This is a must see. I'll leave it at that.
Fitzpatrick as Todd knows what he is doing. His Sweeney Todd is cold, unnerving and focused. His voice is perfect to project his feelings and hostility. His glazed over eyes when he looks into the audience, stares right through you. He allows a few gentle moments to soften him when talking about Lucy and his now grown daughter Johanna, who is a ward under lock and key of nasty Judge Turpin. But Todd quickly regains his bitterness. He doesn't allow himself to respond to Mrs. Lovett's affections. She has her eyes on him, but he has his eyes on the Judge and his assistant Beadle, and the final shave he intends to give to both of them. Fitzgerald is mesmerizing as he totally embraces the dark side of his character.
Miss Wingert as the quirky and frolicsome Mrs. Lovett is perfect for this role. She brings to life that carefree personality and devious spirit Mrs. Lovett absolutely must have. She portrays Lovett with finesse and draws you in to her trickery. She has some of the best lines and of course one of the best-known songs. Matched well with Fitzpatrick, Wingert's acting and singing abilities make for a perfect storm.
David Darrow as Tobias Ragg is brilliant in the complexity he molds into his character. He's called to be funny in scenes with his boss, a flamboyant Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli (Evan Tyler Wilson), sweet in scenes with Mrs Lovett, who he looks to as a mother figure, and cold-blooded, in a nice sort of way, to anyone that may do her harm. Although he plays a simple-minded character, his approach to each facet of what's going on in Tobias's mind is interesting to watch. Sherman as Anthony Hope and Elizabeth Hawkinson as Johanna were paired well as the two young lovers. Sherman brought a naiveté and wholesomeness to his part that blended well with the gentle, willow-like fragility Hawkinson gave Johanna. Miss Hawkinson had one of the voices that stood out the most to me throughout the production. She was powerful in her delivery and made her character glow with her sincerity. Mr. Wilson cleverly brought the swindler to life as Pirelli. He had some fun with this character and so did we. He was delightful to watch and added a nice touch of levity. James Ramlet as the Judge you love to hate was villainous. He projected a sort of pride in his arrogant disregard for people and his underhanded ways. Anderson had his hands full playing Beadle the clown one minute and Beadle the gruesome the next. Anderson was up the task.
Overall the cast and crew of this production worked well together, kept the show moving at a nice clip and really held your attention. The sets and lighting allowed a distinctive vibe and aura to ignite each scene. Outside of sound issues for the first 15 minutes that were eventually remedied, I though this was a fine production in which Asolo should be quite proud. Hold on to your heads and go check out Sweeny Todd.