By Lynn Geyer
Sometime around the US Civil War, a tale of a wronged English barber appeared in a penny dreadful. Sometime around the US Cold War, Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler set the story to music and “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” was reborn.
“Sweeney Todd” is not your happy, foot-stomping, tune-whistling musical but rather a product which could have appeared at the Grand Guignol, the theatre in Paris which specialized in horror.
This is a dark comedy/drama which mixes music and witticisms with blood and laughter.
The tale is about a simple barber who had the misfortune to have his young wife attract the attention of a powerful judge who, wanting to posses her, sends her husband to prison for years. When Todd returns, he finds his beloved wife dead and the judge guardian to his daughter whom he plans to marry.
Todd is befriended by Mrs. Lovett who runs a rather unsuccessful meat pie shop below his tonsorial emporium. Together they make beautiful pies while diminishing the population of the 19th Century London scene. These happenings are explained by a chorus of zombie-like creatures who fill the intimate stage with song and writhing dance.
Director Jim Brown has done an excellent job of choreographing his actors around the theatre, sometimes spilling over into the audience. He brings out the beast – er – best in each of them.
Brian Galante is the Musical Director/Conductor. He keeps the cast and 5-piece orchestra in tune with the seemingly difficult score. At times, the volume of the music tends to overshadow the lyrics, but this is often typical with musical theatre.
Art Fick designed the set which includes an impressive mural of London Town or yore by Steve Chanfrau.
Hally Phillips designed the authentic costumes and handled the props (including the pies!). Kris Zetterstrom does the startling light design to match Alex Smith’s sound design.
The ensemble company is comprised of 15 professional-like singers and dancers. Their voices hit the seemingly discordant notes turning them into jarring melodic tunes, most of which you won’t remember because “Sweeney Todd” is really an opera with the majority of the dialogue sung rather than spoken with almost non-existent memorable arias.
Stand-out chorus voices belong to Kelsey Hamm and Bruce Story.
Our dastardly Judge Turpin is played convincingly by J. Howard Boyd. Troy Turnley is realistic as his cohort, The Beadle.
Terry Thibodeaux is pompously amusing as a short-lived rival barber Pirelli. David Phillips is believable as Jonas Fogg, the unfeeling administrator of the mad house.
Steve Barnett is the juvenile love interest Anthony Hope and Krista Curry is his ingénue, Johanna, Todd’s daughter. Both have excellent singing voices, however, Curry needs to project more over the orchestra to be better heard.
Niclas R. Olson is charming as Tobias Ragg, the innocent young man who assists Pirelli until his disappearance then switches his allegiance to Mrs. Lovett for all the pies he can eat.
Karen E. Christensen is Mrs. Lovett, queen of pies of thighs and sundry body parts. Christensen has the perfect voice for the role. She sings out with lust and gusto.
Glenn Guhr is Sweeney Todd our demon barber. Guhr is a delight in the role. His flowing white hair, swaggering walk and full, deep baritone voice accentuate his portrayal.
Rochelle Morris as the Beggar Woman takes honors for best characterization. Morris is extraordinary as the half-mad creature who haunts the stage with out-stretched hand and memory of lost happiness. She is never out of character.
“Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” continues at the Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit Depot, through June 26 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. There is an 8 p.m. Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday June 9 and an Actors’ Benefit 2 p.m. matinee June. 18
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
Don’t miss this unusual, riveting musical. One piece of advice: Have dinner before the show; you might not feel like eating afterwards!