South Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which opened Friday night, is an absolute must-see. So much so, that here’s the link for tickets, and you should buy yours before reading further: SCR.org.
I have to start by telling you that my expectations for this show were so high that I almost didn’t want to go, for fear of being disappointed. Sweeney Todd was one of the first musicals I ever saw, and the production I remember from my youth set an impossibly high bar. I’m happy to report that my impossible expectations were exceeded.
David St. Louis has the physique and “rich, smoky voice” the title role requires. He brought a degree of menace to Sweeney that made him feel unnervingly real. This is supposed to be a man driven mad by having been wrongfully imprisoned before coming home to find his family broken by an enemy. He needs to be convincingly single-minded and scary, and St. Louis delivered.
Jamey Hood’s Mrs. Lovett was equally on point. Mrs. Lovett is the chief comic relief in Sweeney Todd, but she’s also a full-blown sociopath. She’s the one who sees the potential in Sweeney’s revenge plot and elevates it. Hood captured her comic essence perfectly, while believably justifying a series of despicable choices. Her performance of “The Worst Pies in London” sealed the deal for me that the production was going to be top-notch.
Honestly, the casting was as pitch-perfect as the actors’ voices. Director Kent Nicholson may have molded the elements into the finished product adeptly, but he definitely gave himself an advantage by choosing the actors he did.
Devin Archer‘s Anthony was as earnest and naive as he needed to be. Juliana Hansen’s Johanna was spot-on. Erica Hanrahan-Ball left a delicate trail of breadcrumbs as the scene-stealing Beggar Woman. Robert Mammana really leaned into Judge Turpin, handsome and vile with some serious self-discipline issues. Conlan Ledwith had all the heart and simplicity poor Toby requires, and Brent Schindele and Katy Tang were terrific in about a dozen roles each.
Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, as Beadle Bamford, and Roland Rusinek, as Adolfo Pirelli, deserve a special round of applause. They hit the mark with what their roles demanded, and their voices! After the initial delightful surprises of the notes they could both hit, what a treat it was to see them again each time they took the stage!
At the end of the three hour show, which flew by, I was emotionally exhausted. Sweeney Todd is dark, y’all. Beyond the many murders, enhanced by very effective use of fake blood, pretty much every character is deeply disturbed and disturbing. Additionally, my relief at having loved it mingled with a pandora’s box of memories from my personal history with Sweeney. I was moved to tears by remembering the innocent time in my own life that I associate with this show. If it’s wrong to tear up with nostalgia while watching people murder their neighbors and serve them as food, I guess I don’t want to be right.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is at South Coast Repertory until February 16. If you like a little gore in your musical comedy, give yourself the gift of catching this show. Here’s the link for tickets again: SCR.org.
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