BWW Review: Stray Dog Theatre's Gloriously Dark and Gruesome SWEENEY TODD

Stephen Sondheim's gloriously dark and enormously tuneful take on the tale of the "Demon Barber of Fleet Street", SWEENEY TODD, is given a highly entertaining presentation in Stray Dog Theatre's latest production. There have been several different stagings of the musical over the years, one of which even featured the actors playing the music score, but this one features a great music ensemble, terrific performances, and a wonderful representation of a grungy and corrupt London, circa 1846. Since Stray Dog first started performing musicals a few years ago they've become more and more adept at it with each successive offering. SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET is an exceptional show, and if you haven't gotten your tickets yet, you'd better hurry because the run is selling out quickly. It's a must-see!

Banished on a trumped out charge to Australia, barber Benjamin Barker returns to his native soil to seek revenge on those who wronged him and his family under the guise of Sweeney Todd. He begins his career anew in a shop above the home of the worst meat pies in London. The owner, Mrs. Lovett, has her own suspicions about Todd, but finds a use for his murderous leftovers that leave both satisfied. He cuts a bloody swath through those who wronged him while searching for the daughter he left behind, who wound up a ward of the judge who condemned him.

Jonathan Hey is a powerful, brooding presence as Todd. From his funeral pall make-up, complete with Frankenstein monster stitches, to his superb command of the stage, Hey delivers a very strong portrayal. Lavonne Byers is also quite impressive as Mrs. Lovett, his partner in crime. Her brash countenance livens up the proceedings considerably, providing welcome comic relief in an otherwise grim saga. Her take on "The Worst Pies in London" is a self-deprecating scream. She's also playful on occasion as witnessed during "By the Sea" as she contemplates an idyllic, albeit still slightly twisted, life as Todd's wife.

Cole Gutmann is very good as Anthony Hope, a young sailor who rescues Todd and returns him to England. He falls in love with Todd's daughter, delivering the lovely melodic tune, "Johanna", as he professes his feelings. The object of his affections, Eileen Engel, is appealing in the role, and offers up a solid soprano voice as well. Kay Love is nearly unrecognizable as the bedraggled beggar woman whose secret provides a perfect twist, and Gerry Love is sharp as the insidious Judge Turpin, who has eyes for his own ward. Mike Wells is the very picture of corruption as Beadle Bamford, and Connor Johnson is excellent as Tobias Ragg, a youth who is taken in by Lovett after Todd murders his employer, Adolfo Pirelli, flamboyantly played by Tyler Cheatem. The rest of the cast provides superior vocals. and is deserving of recognition as well, and it includes: Angela Bubash, Ted Drury, Laura Megan Deveney, Kimmie Kidd, Belinda Quimby, and Benjamin Sevilla.

Director Justin Been adds to his already sparkling resume with this well conceived and lively presentation. Chris Petersen's musical direction captures the dissonance and harmony that are fighting for dominance in Sondheim's brilliant score, and the musicians involved include; Petersen (piano), Kelly Austermann (clarinet), Steve Frisbee (violin), Bill Hershey (trumpet), Liz Kuba (french horn), Michaela Kuba (cello), M. Joshua Ryan (bass), and Joe Winters (percussion). Tyler Duenow's moody lighting really works well with Rob Lippert's scenic design, which offers up multiple levels and a lovingly rendered, and especially bleak, view of downtrodden Fleet Street. Costume designer T. Ryan Moore's work fits the period and the feel of the piece.

There's plenty of the "red stuff"on display in Stray Dog Theatre's marvelous production of SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, but this production isn't a gore-fest, what it is is a terrific show that really deserves your time and attention. SWEENEY TODD continues through April 22, 2017.

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From This Author Chris Gibson

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