The first show of Lyric Stage company of Boston's new season is Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" which opened on Broadway on March 1, 1979 and won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical. This musical 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 meat pies in London soon become the tastiest with Todd's victims as the secret ingredient in them. Director Spiro Veloudos infuses his cast with the energy and insight to pull off these multidimensional characters while musical director Jonathan Goldberg taught the talented cast members the intricate and precise Sondheim music and lyrics in this over 300 page score. Their combined efforts produce a Broadway style musical right here in Boston. The audience leapt to their feet in a spontaneous standing ovation on this spectacular musical extravaganza.
Spiro's keen insight into these characters pours out to the audience. Jonathan also plays lead keyboards and conducts a seven piece orchestra which is also terrific. From sets to costumes to lighting and sound this is a spectacular production. This talented cast is lead by two outstanding performers. Christopher Chew plays the mad barber splendidly and possesses a tremendous baritone voice which fills the theatre. From his "No Place Like London" to "Pretty Women" to the "Letter", he captivates you with his strong stage presence. He makes the transition from Benjamin Barker into Sweeney Todd during the phenomenal "Epiphany" song which stops the show with Christopher's splendid rendition. Todd's counterpart, Mrs. Lovett is excellently played by Amelia Broome. 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". Amelia brings a lot of humor to the show with her madcap antics. Her duets with Christopher "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, Amelia makes the role her own while Christopher is far superior to Len Cariou who underplayed the part.
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 frightening, "City on Fire" and the rollicking "God, That's Good" which sounds like "Oom Pah Pah" from "Oliver". The supporting cast is terrific, too. Sam Simahk and Meghan LaFlam play the young lovers, Anthony and Johanna who is Todd's kidnapped daughter. Sam is fantastic as this young heroic sailor who saves this damsel in distress from the clutches of the evil judge by rescuing her from an insane asylum. He has a fabulous tenor voice which soars off the charts in the rousing ballad "Johanna" and the pretty duet "Kiss Me" with Meghan. Sam always does a topnotch having last reviewed him as Rapunzel's Prince in "Into the Woods" in May. She possesses a strong soprano voice which is heard in "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" and the lovely duet "Kiss Me" with Sam. They have wonderful chemistry together. The mysterious beggar woman with a secret past is excellently played by Lisa Yuen who displays her comic timing as this insane creature. One of her funniest moments occurs when she tries to grab Anthony's family jewels. Lisa displays her beautiful voice in "Alms" and "City on Fire". Another comic performer is Phil Tayler as Toby. He first appears as Pirelli, the barber's assistant but soon becomes Mrs. Lovett's employee. Phil displays his strong voice in "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir", "God, That's Good" and in the poignant "Not While I'm Around." This latter number is sung when he wants to protect Mrs. Lovett from the dangers in her shop. It's my favorite number in the show. Phil shines in this role.
The horrible, evil judge is excellently played by Paul Sopher. He oozes venom as this insidious character who lusts after Johanna, this much younger woman than him. Paul displays his marvelous voice in "Johanna" where he self flagellate's himself and "Pretty Woman" duet with Christopher. The judge's sidekick is Beadle Bamford. Remo Airaldi shows the man's reprehensible nature when he crushes a bird to death. His strong voice is heard in "Ladies in their Sensitivities." The third suspicious character is the Italian barber, Pirelli who is played for laughs. Pirelli is well played by Davron S. Monroe who wears a handlebar moustache and has a topnotch Italian accent. He utilizes his high tenor voice in the contest song when he shaves a customer slower than Todd. Later on when he tries to blackmail Sweeney, Pirelli becomes the first murder victim of the night. So for a superb rendition of "Sweeney Todd", be sure to run to the box office of Lyric Stage before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you. What a dynamite way to start off the 2014-2015 theatre season. <