BWW Reviews: SWEENEY TODD is Bloody Good at Signature Theatre

By: Feb. 18, 2010
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Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is getting its third production from the Signature Theatre. It was first done in the theater's second year of operation and then repeated to celebrate the theater's tenth year of existance.  So, here we are, celebrating it's 20th Anniversary and Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer is once again presenting the Stephen Sondheim opus that many believe is his best work.

I have to first admit I'm a Sweeney junky. I was so fortunate to see the initial production at the Uris Theater on Broadway starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in 1979. I treasure my LP recording with photos and libretto and the large souvenir booklet that was sold. (I noticed that Baltimore Symphony Musical Director Marin Alsop is listed as a member of the Theater Orchestra Personnel.)  I do miss my Sweeney apron I bought my wife with the famous caricature drawing of Mrs. Lovett's red stained apron and Sweeney's red stained razor and left hand. (Does anyone know how to get one?).

I then saw the tour in 1982 at the Kennedy Center with George Hearn in the leading role.

Next, was the 1989 Roundabout Theatre production in the round on Broadway where my nine year-old daughter Britt sat on the aisle and was scarred to death with actors performing in the aisle next to her. It featured Bob Gunton in the leading role.

The Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center in 2002 starred Brian Stokes Mitchell and Christine Baranski.

Baltimore's Center Stage featured Nora Mae Lyng (replacing E. Faye Butler) and Joseph Mahowald in a stirring production in 2004.

The following year, Patti LuPone and Michael l Cerveris did the Broadway revival (with each character playing an instrument).

I am not even going to mention the numerous local community productions and a memorable  presentation I saw at French Woods Festival for the Performing Arts in Hancock, NY.

Then there was the 2007 film with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. What the film mistakenly lacked was the ensemble. And when you see this Sweeney, you'll understand.

This ensemble is amazing! Their voices will send goose bumps down your spine. Kudos to Jean Cantrell, Matt Conner, Sean Maurice Lynch, Kevin McAllister, Katie McManus, Chris Mueller, Russell Sunday, Hannah Willman, and Weslie Woodly.

Schaeffer has gathered an all-star cast featuring the incomporable Sheeri L.
Edelin as Mrs. Lovett and Edward Gero in the title role. Gero is menacing but I wish he gave his character just a little more comedic tilt, especially in the amazing duet that ends Act I "A Little Priest".

Channez McQuay is superb as the begger woman. This is the first time I heard each and every lyric out of this character. Erin Driscoll (Joanna) continues to amaze me with her talent. Her duet with Gregory Maheu (Anthony) "Kiss Me" is one of the many highlights of the evening. Maheu has a great future ahead of him. I loved Sam Ludwig's (Toby) renditon of of "Not While I'm Around". Chris Van Cleave plays the evil Judge Turpin. I noticed his many credits from London's West End. Wait till you hear his duet "Pretty Women" with Gero. 

This production's success is in large part due to the incredible moving lighting by Chris Lee, effective staging by  Matthew Gardiner, clever scenic design by James Kronzer (Sweeney arrives at the beginning of the show via an elevator), great costumes by Kathleen Geldard, and superb sound by Matt Rowe.

The orchestra is under the baton of Zak Sandler and features him at the piano, Ben Bokor on woodwinds, Aron Rider on cello, and Lee Hinkle doing a yeoman's task on percusssion.  Normally the Signature has had the luxury of larger orchestras and I did miss the lovely Jonathan Tunick lush orchestration. I assume a small budget was responsible for this.

This is certainly a Sweeney for the ages. Thank you Eric Schaeffer for directing it for the third time. Thank you magnificent cast. Thank you to all the designers and musicians for making this a memorable night of theater!!

Don't forget the Signature Theatre's 2010 Sondheim Award Gala on April  12, 2010 at the Embassy of Italy which will honor the original Mrs. Lovitt, Angela Lansbury.

Sweeney continues until April 4. For tickets, call 703-573-SEAT or visit

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Photo Credit: Scott Suchman