Through October 19
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET Shaw Festival/Festival Theatre
As the baker’s assistant slashed the throat of murderous Sweeney Todd, there was applause from a group of seats near me.
It’s a guide to how successfully Benedict Campbell plays the role of the “demon barber” who escapes from exile in Australia under a new identity to come back as a barber Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
He’s back to wreak vengeance on the evil Judge Turpin (Marcus Nance) for the framed conviction so Turpin could take his young daughter and let his wife die.
On his return, he finds Turpin and his evil Beadle (Jay Turvey) and he helps the young man who rescued Todd from a shipwreck and returned him to London and his revenge quest.
Anthony (Jeff Irving) discovers Judge Turpin’s ward, Johanna (Kristi Frank), not realizing it’s Sweeney’s daughter and courts her, bringing on the wrath of the judge and the Beadle.
Todd has met Mrs. Lovett (Jenny L. Wright the day I saw it), who runs a really shoddy bake shop and who rents the space upstairs for the new barbershop.
They develop a symbiotic relationship, he kills customers and dumps their bodies show a chute to the basement where she butchers them and turns them into very sought-after sausages and meat pies.
That’s a change from “The Worst Pies in London.”
Now, Todd is clearly deeply, madly disturbed and is becoming more so, as he begins his joint killing spree, leading to the cooking scene of “God, that’s Good.”
Mrs. Lovett is disturbed, how else can you describe a woman who helps kill people and then turns them into meat pies for the customers of her shop.
She also wants a real relationship with Sweeney but he’s so obsessed with revenge he doesn’t see the signals sent to him, “By the Sea.”
Okay, as I said Campbell’s Sweeney gets his when her assistant, Tobias Ragg (Andrew Broderick), realizes what’s going on.
We also realize how widespread insanity was in the general population of the time when they visit Fogg’s Asylum with the ensemble and free the inmates.
There are also some secrets which Sondheim reveals as the story goes along.
While Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell may return to direct after she finishes her time in the pilot house later this summer, we may not see another production as successful as this.
Grotesque and awful as the story is, I think it’s the best of the shows Sondheim controls completely and this is a very fine production.
Maxwell has a successful and flexible set from Judith Bowden, Paul Sportelli’s musical direction and Valerie Moore’s choreography, along with lighting from Alan Brodie and John Lott’s sound.
This is also a fine cast, especially Campbell, more as an actor than as a singer, although his voice is more than acceptable, in songs like “My Friends,” “Pretty Women,” “The Judge’s Return” and “Finale” with Mrs. Lovett.
There are some really strong numbers like Johanna with “Green Finch and Linnet Bird;” Turvey’s Beadle with “Ladies in their Sensitivities” and “Parlor Songs” with Mrs. Lovett.
There’s also Kyle Blair’s Adolfo Pirelli in “The Contest” with Tobias and Sweeney, Mrs. Lovett and the Ensemble on “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir.”
It’s a really strong Ensemble, shifting constantly from performing the opening “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” through the pub crowd “God, That’s Good” to the final “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”
Because it’s such a strong story, “Sweeney Todd” is really worth seeing, even if you gag a little at the cannibalism which undergirds the story and ties it all together.
Just relax and think about how much the morals and ethics of the story surround us today.
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