Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sweeney Todd"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2003 by Tony Annicone

"Sweeney Todd"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The closing show of The Players 94th season is Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" which opened on Broadway on March 1,1979 and went on to win 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show is a macabre tragicomedy based on the legend of a half-mad 19th century English barber who is driven to crime when his wife and child are taken from him by an evil judge. Unjustly imprisoned, Todd eventually escapes and vows to bring justice not only to the judge who destroyed his life, but to all the people of London. He forms a partnership with Mrs. Lovett, an enterprising barmistress whose previously worst pies in London soon become the tastiest with Todd's victims as the secret ingredient in them. This tale of murder and vengeance is given a topnotch presentation by the 20 member cast under veteran director Joan Dillenback and the expert musical direction of Ron Procopio who not only teaches the cast the difficult over 300 page score but plays the keyboards for this show which is as close to an opera as a musical can get. It rivets the audience to their seats by its magnificence.

Joan utilizes the whole stage to tell the tale of Sweeney Todd. Set designer Dan Clement uses the brick back wall of the stage to portray 19th century London. He has different sets rolled on and off the stage to take the audience to the various locales in the city. Scenic artist, Elaine Boober paints them all with the most impressive one being the 2 story barber shop complete with trap door which gets the dead bodies to Mrs. Lovett's huge oven. Ron not only plays the keyboards, he conducts his 3 fellow musicians perfectly,too. (His youngest son, Buddy is the percussionist and is following in his father's musical footsteps.) Ron gets the needed musical sound from vocalists with wonderful projection, diction and harmonic blending. This is tough music to learn but Ron does it with ease. Bravo. The choreography is handled by Lisa Bergman and the lighting is by Ron Allen with Melanie Estes as the light board operator. (She is also the webmistress for Players so be sure to check out their website.) Lydia Matteson runs a tight ship onstage and backstage as the stage manager, always keeping the action flowing from one scene to the next. She is ably assisted by Iain Lawson who also appears in the show dressed as a sailor who becomes Todd's first customer and victim.

The cast is lead by two outstanding performers who act as well as they sing. Chris Schultz plays the mad barber, Sweeney Todd perfectly. He far surpasses Len Cariou who played it on Broadway in the original production. Chris possesses a phenomenal baritone voice which resounds throughout the theatre in all his songs. He captures the mad desperation the role needs and gives a splendid performance. The murders are spotted in a red light and give the audience chills up their spines. Mrs. Lovett, his counterpart is played excellently by Kathy Donahue. She has a gorgeous soprano range but in this part uses her lower and middle range with resounding results. Kathy, using a Cockney accent, sounds like a younger version of Angela Lansbury especially in "Worst Pies in London" and "Poor Thing". She brings alot of humor to the show and portrays this slightly off center character wonderfully. Kathy's duets with Chris, "Epiphany" and "A Little Priest", when they finally realize what they need to do with the dead bodies are hilarious. Kudos to both of them in these demanding roles.

The supporting cast do a great job in their roles, too. The chorus handles several numbers including the continuous "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" which is based on the "Dies Irae" the Roman Catholic mass for the dead and the rollicking, "God, That's Good" which is like the "Om Pah Pah" number from "Oliver". Dennis Bouchard and Maija Melbardis play the young lovers, Anthony and Johanna who is Todd's kidnapped daughter. Dennis brings this heroic character to life by saving the girl from the evil judge's clutches and rescuing her from an insane asylum. He handles the soaring ballad, "Johanna" and the pretty duet, "Kiss Me" with Maija. She plays the blond ingenue with a soprano voice in her solo, "Green Finch and Linnet Bird", the duet, "Kiss Me" and "City of Fire" with the chorus. Maija is a high school senior who will major in theatre at RIC next year. The mysterious beggar woman is played by Amy Thompson who displays her comic timing as this insane creature who is really more sane than you think. She uses her lovely singing voice in this role and she gains the sympathy of the crowd in her final scene of the show when they finally find out who she really is. Another comic performer is Jay Miscia as Toby. He first appears as the assistant of another barber but soon is employed by Mrs. Lovett. Jay wears a funny long wig which he takes off when she offers to feed him, leading to much laughter. However his standout scene is when he wants to protect Mrs. Lovett from the dangers of the shop in the poignant "Not While I'm Around", my favorite song in the show.

The evil, horrible Judge Turpin is played by Jordan Cannady. He lusts after Johanna and wants to marry her. He uses his strong voice in a duet with Todd called "Pretty Women" which is about his disgusting behavior towards this innocent girl. What a cad. His assistant in wrong doings in this show is The Beadle played perfectly by Fred Kuhr who makes his debut at Players but is no stranger to the stage. His strong singing voice sells "Ladies in their Sensitivities" while he holds some notes out longer than you'd think humanly possible. Fred's acting is topnotch as well especially when he crushes a bird to death in his hands. Another slimey reprehensible creature found in London. The third suspicious character is played for laughs with Steven Dulude as Italian barber, Pirelli, complete with the accent and handlebar moustache. He uses his high tenor voice in the contest song where he sings operatically as he shaves his customer slower than Sweeney. Later when he blackmails Todd, he becomes the first murder victim of the night. Steven returns to the stage after a two year absence and does it with a flourish. (He last appeared here in "Gypsy" but I previously directed him in "Rumors", "South Pacific" and "The Sound Of Music" elsewhere.)

Rounding out this talented cast is Robert Fearn, Rick Bagley, Tara Beaulieu, Jim Brown, Eva-Maria Coffey, Marge Cook, Tommy Iafrate, Kathleen McNiff, John Ricci, Joseph Sedlock and Diane When. So for an outstanding musical production, be sure to catch "Sweeney Todd" at Players. You won't be disappointed, just tell them Tony sent you. To become a member of this theatre club call Lydia at 273-0590 or email her atThePlayers1909@aol.com To learn more about Players visit their website at www.angelfire.com/ri2/theplayers/index.html

"Sweeney Todd" (9 - 16 May )
THE PLAYERS
Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401)273-0590

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