Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sweeney Todd"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark


"Sweeney Todd"

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
From an adaptation by Christopher Bond
Directed and Musical Staging by Rick Lombardo
Musical Direction by Janet Roma

Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Additional Arrangements by Ned Ginsburg
Scenic Design by Peter Colao
Lighting Design by Franklin Meissner, Jr.
Costume Design by Frances Nelson McSherry & Christine Alger
Rehearsal Assistant Stage Manager Mary Lauve
Performance Assistant Stage Manager Jessica Rae Chartoff
Production Stage Manager Greg Nash

Mrs. Lovett................Nancy E. Carroll
Sweeney Todd..............Todd Alan Johnson
Beggar Woman.................Leight Barrett
Anthony Hope.....................Brent Reno
Judge Turpin................Paul D. Farwell
The Beadle.....................Robert Zolli
Johanna........................Liane Grasso
Tobias Ragg.............,......Austin Lesch
Pirelli/Ensemble............Evan Harrington
Policeman/Ensemble............Brian Abascal
Young Lucy Barker/Ensemble...Elizabeth Asti
Policeman/Ensemble............Don Bartolone
Ensemble.........................Shana Carr
Ensemble......................Whitney Cohen
Ensemble.....................Tatjana Cornij
Ensemble....................Christine Hamel
Ensemble.....................Jennifer Hazel
Ensemble....................Naomi Gurt Lind
Jonas Fogg/Ensemble.............Bill Molnar
Ensemble......................Shaina Murphy
Birdseller/Ensemble..........Everett O'Neil
Ensemble........................Drew Poling
Policeman/Ensemble..........Brian D. Wagner
Ensemble............Montroville C. Williams
MUSICIANS:
Keyboard...........Janet Roma
Violin......Stanley Silverman
Clarinet.........Linda Poland
Keyboard......Connie Reisdorf
Bass................Ed Krauss
Percussion.....Scott G. Nason

Go. Don't read any further, just go. You will never hear or see a better production of this masterpiece, so pick up the phone now. Though if you haven't arranged for tickets already, you'd better pray the run's extended and be prepared to wait in line. If you're lucky enough, these are a few of the things you can expect to experience:

I'll get to Mr. Todd later, but first I have to say Nancy E. Carroll must have gotten in touch with her "inner-ingenue" for the two duets she capers through with that sardonic shaver. When her meat-pie shop becomes a raging succes because a new supplier lowers overhead, ("A Little Priest") she goes all kittenish and cute contemplating vacations "By The Sea" with her soon-to-be monosyllabic spouse. (Watch what she does with her toes!) She's light and bouncy and looking twenty years younger than roles she normally plays, and it's obvious why she's the Dance Captain of this show.

But of course, in both these stop-the-show scenes she is playing with Todd Alan Johnson's Sweeney --- as terrifying a Jekyll-Hyde seeker of vengeance as ever swung razor. When he appears in "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" that starts the show, suddenly it's a show about clenched jaw-lines. His eyes burn out of black pits in a tall and powerful man's soul and neither winning a streetside barber contest nor finding a fitting use for the customers he shaves a bit too closely ever quite quenches their waiting flames. (In-group note: this pair both had colds opening night; imagine how they'll be as their health improves!!!)

Peter Colao's sets and the costumes by Frances Nelson McSherry & Christine Alger have all the soot and poverty of Dickens' days and none of his humor. This is of course a London where a judge can railroad a man to an Australian penal colony and then invite his pretty wife to a masked ball in order to rape her as the evening's entertainment --- and sixteen years later expect to marry their daughter! Paul D. Farwell sings of his lust while whipping himself over it, and his contempt for the poor whom he sentences ("Yes, he's only ten but already a habitual criminal; hang him.") is almost enough to make you cheer for the vengeful barber once he's actually got him in the chair.

That daughter (Liane Grasso) and the young sailor smitten at first sight (Brent Reno) make the only golden thread of hope (His very name is Anthony Hope!) through this grim-faced slag-heap of a city, and their voices intertwining in duets are so beautiful it doesn't matter if Stephen Sondheim's words are, for the moment, incomprehensible.

Then there's Leigh Barrett as a mad beggar-woman and tup'ny prostitute who's really....
Aah, but that would be tellin, wun'tit? Lemme say though she din't really take no poison as some sez. See the show and you'll learn more.

Director Rick Lombardo has a cast of twenty-four here, for which he has found acting students, graduates of National Touring Companies, local stars, choral soloists, Community Theater regulars --- every one of them, especially in the stage-filling ensemble songs, a star whether any critics stick an adjective or adverb by their names or not.

I am the proverbial tin-eared kid, but even I could thrill to Janet Roma's musical direction that saw this ensemble through complicated, compelling music. And the six-piece orchestra, tucked up above the action at the back of the New Rep stage never upstaged these powerful singers.

I've been told that Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler expected that their "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" would emerge as a small "chamber opera" --- much like the later "Assassins" --- before director Harold Prince came aboard and upped the ante. So in a sense, the intimate New Rep stage may be closer to that original intention than the big Broadway classic you might rent on video-tape. One thing is certain: it is, as originally advertised

A MUSICAL THRILLER!
Go!

Love,
===Anon.


"Sweeney Todd" (23 April - 25 May)
NEW REPERTORY THEATRE
1161 Walnut St NEWTON HIGHLANDS MA
1(617) 332-16461


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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