Review: SWEENEY TODD at Signature Theatre

A masterclass in Sondheim, Signature Theatre’s Sweeney Todd runs through July 9th.

By: May. 25, 2023
Review: SWEENEY TODD at Signature Theatre

When Stephen Sondheim passed, the world stood still. The world renowned composer and lyricist passed away just two years ago, and since then, we have seen a resurgence of his work throughout the world. Signature Theatre themselves have produced 31 Sondheim shows in the past 32 years. To honor the longstanding relationship with the composer, Signature dedicated their 33rd season to Sondheim. With a production that rivals Broadway's recent revival, Signature Theatre presents Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for a riveting end to their Season of Sondheim. 

Set in the dark streets of London in 1785, we follow barber Sweeney Todd (Nathaniel Stampley) as he returns from wrongful imprisonment by the horrifying Judge Turpin (John Leslie Wolfe). Driven by bloodlust, Todd seeks revenge on Turpin for taking his wife and making a ward of his daughter, Johanna (Katie Mariko Murray). With the help of baker Mrs. Lovett (Bryonha Marie), his downstairs neighbor, the two concoct a scheme that would make any stomach turn. What happens next? Well, that’s the play. And he wouldn’t want us to give it away.

Review: SWEENEY TODD at Signature Theatre
Katie Mariko Murray (Johanna) and Paul Scanlan (Anthony Hope) in Sweeney Todd at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Sarna Lapine and Alison Solomon’s work pull together seamlessly on the Max stage, utilizing the thrust space at every aspect for this musical. Weaving in and out of flawless scenic transitions done by the brilliant Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, you’ll find every moment intentional and fluid, making the two and a half hours feel like no time at all. The dark, grimy streets of London are brought to life with Jesse Belsky’s lighting, bringing alive the horror of Sweeney Todd with towering shadows and drainage grates. One of my favorite lighting moments I’ve ever seen comes in with Sweeney’s reunification with his blade - that moment alone warrants a ticket purchase. The music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch deserves its own round of applause. For context, this is the first production of Sweeney Todd I have seen live and it truly wasn’t until this show that I realized just how intricate the music is. Never a word or note out of place, it’s easy to see how seamlessly this production team worked together to build this foundation.

With such a sound foundation set by the production team, this company shines through every lyric and harmony. A nod to the ensemble is a necessity as they carry us through the tale, moving as a cohesive unit to fill in the gaps left behind by others. This show requests a strong ensemble vocally, and this one delivers. It’s also safe to say every member of the supporting and principal cast stands out in all their moments on stage. From the disgusting turn of my stomach any time John Leslie Wolfe’s Judge Turpin speaks to the rush of warmth caused by Anthony (Paul Scanlan) and Johanna’s undeniable chemistry, this cast will blow you away at every turn. Harrison Smith’s Toby will steal your heart, then break it all the same as you never stop rooting for him. Alongside Smith, Christopher Michael Richardson’s Beadle steals the scene every time he’s on stage, always coaxing laughter from the audience. 

Review: SWEENEY TODD at Signature Theatre
Bryonha Marie (Mrs. Lovett) and Nathaniel Stampley (Sweeney Todd) in Sweeney Todd at Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Stampley and Marie are a hellacious duo as they bring Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett to life. Stampley’s Sweeney does not care what you may think of his actions, and yet you empathize with his reasoning. Menacing as he is, a moment never passes where you forget why Sweeney is doing what he thinks he must. Stampley reveals the dichotomous nature of Sweeney's character by delving into the why of his rage. Marie’s Mrs. Lovett elevates the stakes while bringing comedic relief to this tale. With a wonderfully crafted, three-dimensional portrayal of Mrs. Lovett, Marie brings Lovett’s desperate need of Sweeney’s love through “the ends justify the means” lens perfectly. It’s hard to say I’d believe to find a better duo than Stampley and Marie for Sweeney and Lovett.

A masterclass in Sondheim, Signature Theatre’s Sweeney Todd revels in its innovation of Signature’s space. This production impresses with its powerful design and top-notch performances. I can wholeheartedly say that Signature’s Sweeney Todd will undoubtedly be one of the best Sondheim productions in Washington D.C. to date. 

Signature Theatre's Sweeney Todd is running now through July 9th. Running time is approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes, with one intermission.

This show is recommended for teens and adults. Contains guns/gunshot sounds and will use theatrical haze. Signature does not admit children under 6 years old. Click here to read all content warnings.


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From This Author - Shelby Tyler

Shelby Tyler is an aspiring arts administrator with a passion for theatre and writing. In 2021, she received degrees in Theatre and Communication Studies from East Tennessee State University... Shelby Tyler">(read more about this author)


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