Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
14/10/2010 - 23/10/2010
A Musical Thriller
“A masterpiece of murderous barber-ism and culinary crime”
The date is April 1888, the place is
The rare instance of a musical thriller, Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s chilling, suspenseful, heart-pounding masterpeice of murderous barber-ism and culinary crime.
Sweeney Todd mixes intense drama with howlingly funny moments of dark humour. Lust, revenge, madness and murder – all play their part in this masterful melodrama. And at the show’s core is a challenging and sophisticated score of epic proportion with two tasty tour de force roles in Sweeney and his comic female accomplice Mrs Lovett.
Staged by Showiz Christchurch in this year of Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday, Sweeney Todd will be directed by Sara Brodie, with musical director Luke di Somma. This lavish production will enthrall audiences with outstanding voices, set and costumes, to create a most memorable and thrilling musical theatre experience.
Presented by Showbiz Christchurch
14th-23rd October 2010
TICKETS PURCHASED FOR SEPT POSTPONED SEASON CAN B EXCHANGED AT TICKETET FOR NEW DATES
The principals are:
SWEENEY TODD: Michael Bayly
JUDGE TURPIN: Ravil Atlas
BEADLE BAMFORD: Peter Hewson
ADOLFO PIRELLI: Blair McHugh
ANTHONY HOPE: Mark Williamson
TOBIAS RAGG: Cameron Melville
MRS NELLIE LOVETT: Juliet Reynolds-Midgley
JOHANNA BARKER: Amy Bowie
BEGGAR WOMAN (aka LUCY BARKER): Anne-Marie Cotton
Review by Tony Ryan 15th Oct 2010
Among a generally strong and consistent cast she stands out for the way she is able to give real personality to a rather stereotypically-drawn character. Throughout the evening we see a real and believable individual who retains her persona in a wide variety of expressive contexts, whether comic, sentimental, conniving, anxious or, at the end, terrified. Her voice, mannerisms, responses to other characters and situations, and sudden changes of mood are endlessly entertaining and, at times, grippingly dynamic. Sondheim has given the part of Nellie Lovett his best music and Midgley uses it with consummate skill and vocal characterisation to develop and establish her character even further.
The character is also helped by Sara Brodie’s excellent production and Mark McIntyre’s wonderfully effective and fluid set. Diane Brodie’s costumes and Joe Hayes’ lighting design also contribute effectively to the director’s concept. I encountered Sara Brodie’s work last year when The Kreutzer was performed at the Christchurch Arts Festival. That production was a very imaginative and original conception in way that is not quite possible with a piece like Sweeney Todd. But last night we were given a production which made the very most of Hugh Wheeler’s and Stephen Sondheim’s particular brand of theatre.
I was thankful for a production which enabled singers and actors to develop their characters and to establish a sense of real human individuality. So often we are presented with modern productions of musicals in which performers are purged of any individuality in the interests of the director’s robotic and superficial slickness, so that even familiar pieces become productions to admire rather than works of art to move and uplift. But last night’s Sweeney Todd was about the characters and the writers’ intentions and, in consequence, the director has succeeded, in my view, so much more successfully than the production-line machines that otherwise seem to have become the order of the day.
Among the other actors, the long-time experience of Michael Bayly’s Sweeney Todd, Peter Hewson’s Beadle Bamford and Ravil Atlas’s Judge Turpin also brought rounded personalities and consistent characterisations.
The younger members of the cast demonstrated commitment and polish without quite the imagination and personal touches evident in the performances of those more experienced names. Perhaps that is partly the fault of Sondheim and Wheeler themselves. The characters have a tendency towards music hall stereotypes, a factor that may be an open and welcome invitation to an actor of talent and skill, but a problem for anyone hoping to find the characterisation written into the part.
In that sense, I may not be the ideal Sondheim reviewer because, while his admirers are certainly many, his work has never totally convinced me – and it’s not for want of trying. This is the third fully-staged, ‘professional’ production of Sweeney Todd that I’ve seen, and over the years I’ve attended equally polished performances of Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Side By Side By Sondheim (a sort of mid-career review) and Passion (during its opening week in New York in 1994). But I’ve always found the inspiration uneven, the substance rather thin and the musical devices contrived and clever rather than spontaneous and original. However, I’m happy to confess to huge admiration for his endlessly inventive and witty lyrics.
But Sweeney Todd certainly has some very special and engaging highlights when presented as superbly as they were in this production. Mrs Lovett’s The Worst Pies in London lifted the opening scenes of the show beyond the dated melodrama of the Prologue, and A Little Priest, also a highlight of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra’s recent Bernstein/Sondheim concert, is a song, both for its words and its lyrics, of undeniable inspiration. And that inspiration was reinforced by the most thoroughly conceived staging that one could wish for – a moment when the spirits were truly lifted despite the abrupt introduction of the plot’s grisly subject-matter.
The Pirelli scene in Act 1, lead with versatility by Blair McHugh, was another highlight, and Act 2’s By the Sea was heart-warmingly engaging. The singing and movement of the ensemble were also handled impressively, although the amplified sound had an edginess that was sometimes rather wearing on the ear; this also applied to certain aspects of the solo singing and seemed to be the one element of the show that aimed for brick-wall impact rather than expressive communication.
As the story reaches its combined – and therefore dramatically confused – climax and dénouement at the end of the show, we are presented by the writers with more deaths than the final scene of Hamlet, with horror piled on horror in a way that detracts from the humanity of the plot. No longer are we dealing with tyranny, corruption, injustice, revenge, love, jealousy; we are simply being shocked by any and every new horror that the authors can dream up. And, whereas the horrific finales of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, etc. are genuinely tragic, heartrending, moving and, in the end, spiritually uplifting and bursting with humanity, Sweeney Todd’s ending is merely melodramatic and designed to hit us with the impact of a sledgehammer.
Musical Director Luke di Somma’s programme note draws musical comparisons with Stravinsky, Verdi, Brahms and Wagner, which is stretching things beyond credibility. While Sweeney Todd certainly has glimpses of the “power, humour, beauty, darkness and sophistication” that di Somma mentions, it certainly has none of those composers’ subtlety, richness or depth. Don’t get me wrong, I am a great aficionado of the Broadway Musical, but let’s not demean it by pretending that it’s trying to be something else. However, Luke di Somma very clearly has a deep knowledge of and affection for the genre of the Musical, and the musical quality of the performance that I saw, both on stage and in the pit, was very fine and very secure indeed.
Fans of Musical Comedy, Stephen Sondheim, Victorian melodrama, horror stories, or a night of quality singing, acting and theatre need not hesitate; this production has many strengths and those strengths certainly deliver.
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