Review: SWEENEY TODD at Eight O'Clock Theatre

A Cut Above: The Razor’s Tale of Sweeney Todd

By: May. 12, 2024
Review: SWEENEY TODD at Eight O'Clock Theatre
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As a seasoned theatre reviewer, I've had the privilege of witnessing the grandeur of Broadway tours. Yet, last night's performance at Eight O'Clock Theatre unveiled a new pinnacle of theatrical excellence. From the ensemble's hauntingly prolonged first note of Sweeney in "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," a shiver of anticipation cascaded through the audience. Under the expert direction of Jason Tucker and the precise choreography of Amy Fee, the stage became an electrifying tableau of dark, sadistic magic of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street—a realm only Stephen Sondheim's genius could summon.

Domenic Bisesti's lighting design masterfully complemented the dark and atmospheric setting of the musical, enhancing the mood and tension throughout the performance. The lighting danced across the set, playing with darkness and light like another character in this twisted tale. Designed by Scott Cooper and Tom Hansen, the stage was a Victorian London vision shrouded in shadows and whispers of menace. The set was a marvel, capturing the grimy streets of London and the eerie ambiance of Sweeney Todd's barbershop,  a labyrinthine world of hidden fears and desires - his den of retribution.

The sound by Buck Snow and the show's special effects were used with a master's touch, enough to elicit gasps but never overstepping into gratuitousness, particularly in depicting the gruesome barbering scenes. Blood and other effects are tasteful and impactful, adding to the horror without overshadowing the story and never failing to underscore the narrative's macabre heart. I must know what Todd's victims slid into - out of his barber chair on the second floor of the barber set.

Debbi Lastinger's costumes were a triumph of period authenticity and meticulous detail, from the ragged attire of the London underclass to the refined garb of the elite. Each costume was a visual feast, weaving another layer into this richly textured production.

And the actors. Oh. My. Word.

The cast features David Russell, Lauren Butterfield, Kyle Williamson, Kayley Jewel, Stu Sanford, Griffin Spriggs, Jenna Jane, Megan Jetter, DJ Schuett, Steven Fox, Cheyna Alexander, Amber Britner, Kevin Buete, Rei Capote, David W. Collins, Mary Davis, Lauren Dykes, Emma Foroutan, Steven Fox, Sara Heller, Alexis Kersey, Sarah Libes, Christian McCormick, Reginald Simmons, Jake Veit, TJ Venieris, Jenelle Vinachi, and Katie Voorhees.

When I previewed the musical weeks before attending last night, Tucker told me the audience would not expect these beautiful vocals. If there were a single word to describe my reaction to the powerhouse group of talented individuals in this community theatre, it would be gobsmacked. Each performer brought a unique vibrancy to their role, creating a gorgeous and haunting ensemble in its collective voice.

Russell, embodying Sweeney Todd, was a formidable presence of both terror and deep-seated sorrow, his voice carving out the tragedy of the Demon Barber with every note. The emotion he could convey with the simple balling of his hands was powerful. His portrayal was a study of restrained power, with moments of raw emotion that left the audience breathless. The moment he realized his horrific, murderous mistake, your heart broke with his anguish.

Butterfield's portrayal of Mrs. Lovett is nothing short of exceptional. Butterfield brings a nuanced complexity to the role, embodying Mrs. Lovett's multifaceted personality: her longing for companionship, overt lust for Sweeney, and cunning survival instincts. Through her performance, we see the lengths Mrs. Lovett will go to achieve her desires, making her a fascinating and pivotal character in this dark and thrilling musical.

Despite all the more recognized serious songs, I truly enjoyed the humor in Butterfield's and Russell's "By The Sea." Butterfield is a natural comedian, and the silly interaction between the two is a fun reprieve from the otherwise somber story.  

The notes that Kayley Jewel hit in her performance as Johanna were miraculous. A vocal marvel, her performance of "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" was a thing of beauty. The chemistry between her and Kyle Williamson's Anthony was tangible, their duet "Kiss Me" blending sweetness and sensuality.

With live musicians on stage breathing life into Sondheim's score right before our eyes, the music swelled and dipped, carrying us on a journey of revenge. Jason Tucker, Brooke Stuart, Dan Kalosky, Mary Hughes, Emelia Ulrich, Dylan Addonizio, Javi Rodriguez, Gary Wright, and Joe Bonelli add a dynamic layer to the performance, with Sondheim's powerful score performed beautifully, enveloping the audience in the musical's haunting melodies.

Eight O'Clock Theatre's Sweeney Todd was an experience that transcended the stage, a performance that stood shoulder to shoulder with the best of Broadway.


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