After thoroughly appreciating last semester’s production of “Evita” by CMTS, our Arts Editor couldn’t pass up the chance to attend CMTS’s spring production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Still tone-deaf and still generally ignorant of musical theatre, here are his thoughts.
The tale of Sweeney Todd is set in London in 1846, and the production opens after a young sailor, Anthony (Josh Goldman), rescues Sweeney from sea. They arrive in London where Sweeney briefly recounts an abridged version of his former life as a barber to Anthony. Sweeney then leaves Anthony and returns to Fleet Street, his old stomping ground, finding Mrs. Lovett (Skylar Gottlieb) and her pie shop. Sweeney inquires about the room above the pie shop, and Lovett tells the story of a naïve barber who was banished by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Harry Bickford) so that the judge could pursue the barber’s beautiful wife. Here, Lovett realizes that Sweeney is that very same barber, and promising to keep his secret, she tells Sweeney about his wife’s suicide but promises to help Sweeney regain his job and daughter, Johanna (Anna Fondiller), who is now a ward of the judge.
Sweeney swears revenge on the Judge and his assistant, Beadle Bamford (Claire Fry). After setting up his barber shop again, he realizes that he can kill his customers with his razors, enabling him to create a trap for the Judge and Beadle. In order to not spoil the rest of the show, I’ll refrain from finishing the summary, but as Sweeney continues on his journey for revenge, his methods become more reckless and less discriminating, culminating in a truly spectacular and gruesome finale.
To be honest, I always get a bit nervous when it comes to watching musical theatre. A normal production has so many variables as it, so many things that could go wrong, but the additional coordination of live music, singing, and some additional choreography (depending on the direction of the show) adds another element of risk when it comes to how the final production will turn out.
That being said (while it was not without a few flaws), I was extremely impressed with the execution and professionalism of “Sweeney Todd.” The artistic vision of the show, directed by Zachary Flick, was bold and unique, and the decision to use the Lerner Black Box (instead of a more traditional theater) added to the overall effect of the show by creating a sense of intimacy between the performers and the audience. “Sweeney Todd” is all about creating an atmosphere that allows the the audience to immerse themselves in Sweeney’s passion and need for vengeance, and in this respect, Flick’s vision unequivocally succeeded.
Regarding individual performances, I was also stunned at how consistently exemplary the performers were in their respective roles. Obedian played the role of Sweeney Todd masterfully, exuding dark angst and fervor in his performance and truly commanding the stage with both his solid vocals and physical style of acting. His partner in crime, Gottlieb (playing Mrs. Lovett) was equally impressive in bringing Lovett’s mania and love for Sweeney to life, and I absolutely commend Gottlieb for her sharp acting and performance. Together, Obedian and Gottlieb form a fantastic pair of twisted, mad-people. Aside from the two leads, Harry Bickford stood out among the cast, both for his looming stature and his solid portrayal of Judge Turpin. Some of my favorite scenes in the show featured Obedian and Bickford together; although they don’t appear onstage together often, their chemistry is readily apparent and well-received.
Before, I did mention the presence of a few flaws, and while they are fairly minor, they bear worth mentioning. A few of the roles were cast gender-blind (Beadle Bamford, Tobias Ragg, and Pirelli), and while this is not an issue in itself, occasional slips regarding pronouns, “ma’ams,” and “sirs” did create some confusion. Additionally, while most characters attempted and succeeded at putting on an English accent, there were quite a few (obvious) lapses in the consistency of the accents. For me, this was jarring, and I would have much preferred a performance that just disregarded the accents as a whole. (I was also disappointed in the lack of fake-blood in the show, but I can’t lay fault on anyone for this choice. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to clean it up.)
Very minor slips aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this production of “Sweeney Todd,” and I would highly recommend anyone fortunate enough to have a ticket to attend. The music was exceptional, the atmosphere was truly dark and menacing, and the singing and performances were truly stellar; go see this show.
For those not lucky enough to have a ticket, a waitlist will open approximately 30 minutes before each show. Upcoming performances are in the Lerner Black Box Theater at 8 PM on April 8th, 2 PM and 8 PM on April 9th.
Promotional photo via Facebook