note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Beverly Creasey
Reviewed by Beverly Creasey
What's a director to do? Tinker with a masterpiece like Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" and the critics will yowl. Present it like everyone else and they'll say you can't offer anything new. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.
New Rep director Rick Lombardo does: He tinkers and tweaks, and the very good news is that this "Sweeney Todd" packs punches in startling new places.
First of all, the murderous barber and his pie-packing henchwoman don't look like all the other Sweeneys and Mrs. Lovetts. GASP! GULP! They look...like us! (And what a time in our history for that message.)
Most Sweeneys have vengeance in their hearts and murder up their sleeves from the get-go. This Sweeney builds to the moment he decides to feed "the hungry god". So the moment is revelatory rather than confirmatory (like all the others I have seen.) When Todd Alan johnson as Sweeney rages against heaven, your blood runs ice cold and you can't dismiss the mayhem as mere guignol giggles....which is not to say there aren't giggles aplenty. Lombardo gets even more laughs by slowing up the interactions between Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett.
What performances these are! Johnson and Nancy Carroll set a new standard for the carnivorous couple. From the moment Sweeney s exhumed to the predatory pair's demise, you'll be seeing the musical through new eyes. (If you've never seen it, now is the time!)
Leight Barrett gives yet another piercing performance as the beggar woman permeated with tragedy. Robert Zolli thrills as the high flying Beadle; Evan Harrington delights as Pirelli, the purveyor of the "miracle elixer"; but it's Paul Farwell as evil incarnate who stops the show with the Judge's flagellation scene.
Janet Roma gets gorgeous singing from everyone, not an easy task, with Sondheim's tricky dissonances. Peter Colao's versatile set makes the tiny New Rep space look cavernous and Franklin Meissner Jr's hazy lighting perfectly dovetails with Lombardo's clever choreography --- esp. for the madhouse scene; "City on Fire" has never seemed so chilling. To paraphrase Mrs. Lovett's satisfied customers "God, they're Good!"