Review: SWEENEY TODD at The 5th Avenue Theatre

A solid production of the Sondheim classic with a glaring problem

By: Apr. 29, 2023
Review: SWEENEY TODD at The 5th Avenue Theatre
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Review: SWEENEY TODD at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Anne Allgood and Yusef Seevers in
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

Dear Readers, I'm baaack! It's been months since we've spoken or even since I've been in a theater due to a medical issue that's kept me homebound. So, one of my favorite shows, Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's bloody masterpiece "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street", currently playing at the 5thAvenue Theatre, felt like a great choice to dip my toes back in the theatrical waters. And I'm happy to report it was a mostly fantastic return. I say, "mostly" as while it was a super solid production, especially from a tight and gifted ensemble, there was one element, and a rather large one at that, that kept me from being truly immersed in this macabre world. But we'll come to that in a bit.

This stunner of a musical, based on a 1970 play by Christopher Bond as well as a character first seen in a Penny Dreadful from 1846, follows the murderous redemption of Sweeney Todd (Yusef Seevers), formerly a barber named Benjamin Barker who was sent to prison by the local Judge Turpin (Sean David Cooper) so the Judge could have his way with Barker's wife. Now escaped from prison, the newly named Sweeney Todd vows to get his revenge on the malevolent Judge with the aid of Mrs. Lovett (Anne Allgood), the pie maker from the shop below his. But as the bodies from Todd's rampage start coming in, the two find the best way to dispose of the corpses is to use the meat from their bones in her meat pies. And thus, one of the creepiest and bloodiest musicals from Broadway is born.

Review: SWEENEY TODD at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Anne Allgood and the cast of
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

Now, as a reviewer and a self-proclaimed theater geek, I've seen my fair share of productions of "Sweeney Todd". Some incredible, I hold two productions I've seen as the gold standard on which to compare all others, and some that even if they were ground up into Mrs. Lovett's meat pies would be hard to swallow. Luckily, the 5th Avenue's current production does not fall into that second category. From the first visuals with Lex Marcos' gothic and dangerous looking set, Robert J. Aguilar's creepy lighting design, and Danielle Nieves somewhat otherworldly costumes (although I still question as to why the Beggar Woman played by Porscha Shaw kept wrestling with the largest and most flowing gown on that stage), you know you're in for an intense evening. Then, as the fantastic music direction from Matt Perri and the amazing orchestra kicks in, we know that at least musically, this is going to thrill. Then the stunning ensemble begins to invade the stage to begin our tale with some fantastically tight and powerhouse vocals. If for no other reason, catch this show for the ensemble who performed as one mammoth voice who make every syllable heard in the back rows of the house.

And then we are greeted with the blood red image of Sweeney Todd towering over them all as he lends his booming pipes to the rest. It really is a stunner of a moment. But unfortunately, this moment is the last time I felt any kind of menace or connection to the rest of the show from Seevers. Yes, he has a wonderful voice, I will give him that. Every note he sang was spot on, pitch perfect, and that's not easy with Sondheim. But vocals aside, this role also requires a consistent element of danger and focus that I just didn't get. Seevers didn't really connect with the others on stage, including the incredible Anne Allgood as Mrs. Lovett. So, when we get to his final moments, there was a severe lack of stakes built up for me to care. Beyond that, he needs to pick an accent and stick with it. Sometimes overdone British, sometimes American English, and sometimes almost Jamaican, his accents kept wavering, taking me out of the world with each drift.

Much of the rest of the cast is, as I said, phenomenal. Allgood takes Lovett beyond the caricature I've seen so many times, making her a fun, real, and desperate character, which makes her choices all the more fathomable. And she nails the Sondheim patter perfectly. Similarly, Nik Hagen as the wayward Tobias brings in a vulnerable sweetness to the role mixed with his super clear and powerful vocals. And the moment with the two of them for "Not While I'm Around" is lovely.

Review: SWEENEY TODD at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Jesus Garcia and the cast of
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

Cooper as the Judge along with Jason Weitkamp as the Judge's toady, The Beadle, bring in a delectable vile quality to the show. Although I did miss the Judge's "Mea Culpa" number that isn't always in the show, but I feel lends itself to the Judge's inner struggle and complexity.

Deon'te Goodman and Leslie Jackson are delightful as the would-be lovers, Anthony and Johanna and also bring in some insane vocals. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the astounding Jesus Garcia as the con man Pirelli who managed to steal the show with a few scant scenes.

Directed by Jay Woods and choregraphed by Katy Tabb, the staging they have crafted is deliciously in your face (although not every group number needs to end in a chorus line at the lip of the stage). They've managed to bring out the creep factor in the show that it desperately needs. And Tabb even managed to take one of my least favorite tropes, a dream ballet, and turn it into something visually striking as they recreated the downfall of Barker's wife at the hands of the Judge. And so, with that one major flaw (that hopefully he can settle into as the show goes along) this is a truly solid and worthwhile production. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" a slightly let down but still happily creeped out, YAY-. Not my favorite Sweeney I've seen, but not nearly in the realm of that one trainwreck.

And on one last personal note, I want to thank Kelly Rogers Flynt for filling in for me while I recovered. Thanks so much.

"Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through May 14th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.5thAvenue.org.




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