Contemporary Theater's current show is "Sweeney Todd" by Stephen Sondheim which opened on Broadway on March 1, 1979 and won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical.The musical is a macabre tragicomedy based on the legend of a half mad 19th century barber who is driven to crime when his wife and child are taken from him by a evil judge. Unjustly imprisoned, Todd eventually escapes and vows to bring to justice not only the judge but all the people of London. He forms a partnership with Mrs. Lovett, an enterprising barmistress whose previously worst meat pies of London soon become the tastiest with Todd's victims as the secret ingredient in them. Director Christopher Simpson infuses his cast with the energy and insight to pull off these multidimensional characters while musical director Jean Maxon-Carpenter taught the talented cast members the intricate and precise Sondheim music and lyrics in this over 300 page score. The audience leaps to their feet to reward them on a job extremely well done.
Chris always brings out the best in his cast and this show is no exception. His keen insight into these characters and his direction as well as his blocking are brilliant. Jean plays piano and keeps the harmonic balance between performers and orchestra all night long. Their diction is perfect and the audience can understand every word they utter .This talented cast is lead by two talented performers.Jason Shealy as Sweeney, plays the mad barber splendidly. He also possesses a strong baritone voice, too. From his "No Place Like London" to "Pretty Women" to the "Letter" he captivates you with his strong stage presence. Jason makes the transition from Benjamin Barker into Sweeney during the powerful "Epiphany" song which stops the show with his stunning rendition. Todd's counterpart Mrs. Lovett is wonderfully portrayed by Eden Casteel. As Mrs. Lovett, she uses a Cockney accent and displays her astounding voice in "Worst Pies in London" which is a hoot, as is "By the Sea" and "Poor Thing". Eden brings a lot of humor to the show with her madcap antics. Her duets with Jason, "Epiphany" and "Little Priest" are hilarious when they finally figure out to do with the dead bodies. Kudos to both of them in these demanding roles. Having seen the original Broadway show in 1979 with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, Eden makes the role her own while Jason is far superior to Cariou who underplayed the role.
The magnificent sound of the chorus is a highlight of this show. They handle several demanding numbers including the continuous "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" which is based on the "Dies Irae", the Roman Catholic Mass for the dead, the splendid and scary "City on Fire" and the rollicking "God, That's Good" which sounds like "Oom Pah Pah" from "Oliver." The supporting cast is terrific, too. Alex Bermudez and Maggie Papa play the young lovers, Anthony and Johanna, who is Todd's kidnapped daughter. Alex is fantastic as the heroic young sailor who rescues this damsel in distress from an insane asylum where the judge imprisoned the girl. He has a strong tenor voice which soars off the charts in the rousing ballad "Johanna" and the pretty duet with Maggie called "Kiss Me.' Maggie is a beautiful blonde who possesses a superb soprano voice which soars in her solo "Green Finch and Linnett Bird" and in the lovely duet "Kiss Me" with Alex. The mysterious beggar woman is excellently played by Alison King Anthony. She displays fantastic comic timing as this demented creature. Some of her funniest moments include eating scraps of meat pies from other characters skirts and grabbing Anthony's family jewels at one point. Alison displays her lovely soprano voice in "Alms" and in "City on Fire". Another comic performer is Ari Kassabian. She first appears as Pirelli, the barber's assistant and later becomes Mrs. Lovett's employee. She shows off her singing voice in "Pirelli's Magic Elixir", "God, That's Good" and "Not While I'm Around" the most poignant song in the show and my favorite.
The horrible, repugnant Judge is excellently played to the hilt by Terry Shea. He oozes venom as the Judge who lusts after this younger woman by masturbating while singing about her in "Johanna" and in the duet "Pretty Women" with Jason. Rick Casey plays his bumbling sidekick, Beadle Bamford who gets his in the end. Rick sings "Ladies in their Sensitivities." The third suspicious character is Robert Grady as the pompous Italian barber, Pirelli. He displays his powerful tenor voice in the contest song where he shaves a customer slower than Todd. Later on when he tries to blackmail him, the Italian becomes Todd's first victim of the evening. I last reviewed Robert as Emile deBecque in "South Pacific" at the Granite Theatre last year. So for a superlative rendition of this Sondheim musical, be sure to catch "Sweeney Todd" at Contemporary Theater before time runs out. You definitely won't be disappointed. Tell them Tony sent you.