Review by Danny Gaisin
Admission: – my favorite revenge tales are Dumas’ “Monte Cristo”; Boorman’s ’67 flic “Point Blank”, & Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”. Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD with its repetitious lyrics and melodies seems uninspired by comparison. Last night, I witnessed a preview of young director Adam Brazier’s take and my opinion did a180◦.
Brazier; his Sheridan cast, plus an amazing crew have managed to overcome the play’s shortcomings by staging something that has extraordinary impact and a steady fast-moving pace. The imaginative set; incredible costumes; fabulous make-up and expert blocking add up to a powerhouse presentation.
Brazier’s (& assistant Ari Weinberg) vision and concept is readily apparent – no imposed limitations to his expression or what he visualizes as being the writer’s hypothesis. The result is a model of meticulous detail, with only subtle addenda such as the goggles and gas-masks. There is an artistry in how Brazier & Weinberg manage to inspire such obvious commitment & dedication from even the smallest of ensemble roles.
The story line… a barber in Victorian London has a beautiful wife who attracts the attention of a local magistrate, (think David & Bathsheba). Judge Turpin trumps up a charge & the barber is incarcerated leaving the wife available. Barber escapes, assumes a new identity and returns to Fleet Street for vengeance. Along the way, he enters into partnership with a meat pie maker. He’ll supply the meat by slashing his customers; she’ll dispose of their bodies. The duet ‘a little priest’ which puns vocation to style is one macabre hoot! Unlike my earlier faves’ the ironic denouement satisfies the audience’s sensibilities.
There are seven key roles – Sweeney & his co-conspirator Mrs. Lovett; the judge and his butt-kissing Beadle; Todd’s now-nubile daughter Johanna (remember the name) & her suitor Anthony; and a young challenged kid – Tobias. Amir Haider and Tringa Rexhepi are the title team and both are amazing. Haider who was such a charmer as Hakim in ‘Oklahoma’ displays an almost totally contrasting thespian talent in the dynamism he displays as Todd. His facial expressions; body language; stance, and timing are thoroughly professional. Rexhepi’s Lovett is animated and gives a fascinating character reading. Just a slight difficulty with her accented spoken lines.
Jacob MacInnes and Joel Gomez are the Judge and his beadle. MacInnes was an amazing Jud Frye in Oklahoma and once again plays the villain to perfection .The man should beware typecasting; in person – he’s definitely cool! Gomez has the bully/ass-kisser depiction down pat. He can do so much with just a sneer or raised eyebrow that we’re sure he’ll be in-demand, post-graduation. The Johanna of the piece is Andreanne Bouladier and is certainly pretty enough to meet the play’s tiresome lyrics. Fortunately, she has an excellent soprano voice that ameliorates her role as a nauseating aria subject.
The sailor after her bod is Brett Schaller and he’s not as well drawn as the other lead roles. Young Tony is rather anaemic and imagining him the white knight seems a little farfetched. Not so, Joshua Bouchard whose Toby is simple-minded, physically challenged and degraded by everyone in the cast. His soliloquy to Lovett “Not while I’m around” is so touching that it almost stopped the show. Bouchard seems almost athletic in his ability to switch from comedy to dramatic and then slip right back. The other thirty-members of the cast contribute both background & crew addition. The big chorus number ‘City on Fire’ has some dynamic choreography that incorporates facial expression as well as terpsichore. I was sitting close enough to see everyonel providing full measure. Like it is said – “there ARE no small parts!”
The on-stage five piece orchestra under Jeffrey Huard deserves mention. They’re faultless and are a smooth bridge while Beth Kates’ sets and properties are moved or turned for a different scene façade. The costumes are designed by David Juby and are representative of an almost Gothic effect. Coupled with garish, almost diabolical make-up; the result should carry a ‘14+ adult’ caveat.
SWEENEY TODD, which opens Thursday & runs until Apr. 21st ends this year’s Sheridan Class. Now the graduates go out into the real world of theatre. Judging by the talent exhibited in this offering…they’ll enjoy successful careers.