note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey
If you haven't been to The Footlight Club (America's oldest community theatre) in Jamaica Plain, you owe it to yourself to see the gracious historical building. And you can see an extraordinary exhibit of photographs while you're there, too.
The real reason, though, to get yourself to J.P. is the Footlight Club's first-rate production of "Sweeney Todd. Stephen Sondheim's sardonic lyrics and glorious dissonant score make your hair stand on end. Hugh Wheeler's book whisks you through the back alleys and filthy streets of 19th century London where a mysterious barber named Sweeney Todd has set up shop.
The grand guignol musical mixes deliciously grizzly camp with sincere, affecting pathos so we can squeal with delight when the evil vulture of a judge goes "to his maker impeccably shaved" --- and gasp with pity when Sweeney thinks he'll never see his wife and child again.
Director Bill Doscher's fast paced production --- which includes numbers usually cut --- is fortunate to have two stellar leads in Eric Sosman and Mary O'Bonnell. Sosman brings operatic weight to the role, letting us in to Sweeney's suffering (even through his singing!) and convincing us of the sheer operatic necessity for revenge.
O'Donnell gives the loopy Mrs. Lovett a hint of the psychopath early on, so that her Act II reassurance to the boy who thinks of her as a mother --- while she's planning his demise --- fills us with dread. Doscher gets fine work from the secondary cast as well, the highlight of which is Bill Toll's sailor/hero, Anthony. Musical director Don Boroson's chorus, believe it or not, is packed with singers who often sing leads in local shows, so you know they nailed Sondheim's difficult, screechily sublime music. This is my favorite Sondheim precisely because music and subject-matter marry flawlessly, and The Footlight Club delivers an almost flawless production. Don't miss it. Do "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd" before it closes next weekend.