SWEENEY TODD The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
30/06/2021 - 04/07/2021
STEPHEN SONDHEIM AND HUGH WHEELER’S GROUNDBREAKING MUSICAL MASTERPIECE
WITCH Music Theatre presents a chilling new production of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical thriller. With its razor-sharp writing and spine-tingling score, Sweeney Todd takes audiences on a heart-palpitating ride through the twisted and darkly comic minds of its infamous characters and unforgettable music.
Sweeney Todd is a dark masterpiece. Born out of the ashes of tragedy, Sweeney Todd returns to London in search of his wife, daughter and revenge. With the assistance of the beguiling and eminently practical pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett, a delectable opportunity arises – genius and ghoulish in equal measure. Their pastries go down a treat, but Sweeney’s insatiable hunger for vengeance leads them perilously close to the razor’s edge.
Considered to be one of the most dramatic, powerful and theatrical stories ever orchestrated. Sweeney Todd is devilishly clever and deliciously funny.
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd…”
A Musical Thriller
Te Auaha, Tapere Nui, 65 Dixon Street Wellington.
30 June — 4 July
+ Sat 2pm | Sun 6pm
Theatre , Musical ,
Bloody, bawdy and glorious
Review by Georgia Jamieson Emms 01st Jul 2021
One can only imagine the relief that the cast and crew of Sweeney Todd must have felt to hear that Level 2 restrictions would be lifted a mere 19 hours before opening night of their sold-out season. The audience’s excitement is infectious as lights come up on one of Stephen Sondheim’s most-performed and iconic musicals, the tale of the ‘Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ who unceremoniously murders his clients to provide meat for his landlady’s revolting pies.
In the dual roles of set designer and technical director, Joshua Tucker’s work here is extremely effective – the flapping plastic sheets of a slaughterhouse have frightening connotations, but also serve as a transparent internal space for key dramatic moments (attack, murder scene, a madhouse, among other things). Director Ben Emerson’s use of the spaces for the characters is simple and very clear; there is never any confusion between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’, ‘pie shop’ and ‘street scene’. The scenes involving the ensemble are particularly slick, each person on stage embodying a character of their own rather than ‘chorus member.’
Sweeney Todd may be the pivotal character, but he is no hero. Sure, he’s done fifteen years in a penal colony but unlike Jean Valjean, who overcomes immense personal tragedy and torment to inspire and lead, Todd is hell-bent on revenge against the corrupt Judge Turpin. He is unapologetic as he slaughters almost everyone who sits in his barber’s chair. He’s a hard character to like, and fairly thankless to portray – all the good lines go to Mrs Lovett. He could so easily be the one-dimensional Victorian villain from the penny dreadful series.
Thankfully, Todd’s shoes are filled by Chris Crowe, whose commanding presence and extensive experience on the musical stage has the audience emotionally invested in Todd’s pursuit of what he believes is justice. Perfectly cast, Crowe swings between tragic and terrifying, consistently dramatically engaging. His Todd is a complex and fleshed out character, haunted by inner and living demons (specifically Judge Turpin), but whether he himself is a ‘demon’ is up for debate.
In one of the most sought-after roles for a female character actor, Vanessa Stacey shines as the sassy, business-minded Mrs Lovett; she is simultaneously wickedly funny and totally charming. Stacey has a great musical theatre style and she relishes every moment of her time on stage. Mrs Lovett is a larger-than-life character, but she also has moments of vulnerability: she genuinely cares for – even loves – Todd and wishes desperately for him to move on with his life.
From the dramatic opening number sung by a steely-gazed ensemble, the music of Sweeney Todd is a feast for the ears under the expert direction of Mark Dorrell, arguably the most knowledgable and experienced Sondheim musical director in New Zealand. It is undoubtedly thanks to Dorrell that the diction in this production is impeccable. The impressive ensemble numbers are a thrill to take in.
The singing across the board is excellent, from the jaunty comic number ‘A Little Priest’ performed with glee by Crowe and Stacey, to the sweeping romanticism of ‘Johanna’ beautifully sung by an endearing Zane Berghuis as Antony. Olivia Stewart is touching as Johanna and is vocally very assured in this soprano role. Their romance is sweet and genuine. Particularly poignant is the performance of Jared Pallesen as Toby, one of the most heartbreaking characters in his simple innocence; an inspired casting decision.
As the predatory Judge Turpin, Thomas Barker is a suitably repugnant while offering real leading man energy in his vocals. Teaming up with Crowe on the duet ‘Pretty Women’ is a great moment vocally, all the while laced with dramatic tension. In crucial supporting roles Jthan Morgan (Beadle), Frankie Leota (Beggar Woman) and Ben Paterson (Pirelli) give solid and dedicated performances.
Those lucky enough to secure tickets to Sweeney Todd are in for a real treat; it’s bloody, bawdy and glorious and a further testament to how top quality musical theatre can be produced on a smaller scale, with no less emotional impact at Te Auaha’s Tapere Nui than if it had been staged at the Opera House. We have such talent and vision at our fingertips in Wellington, and WITCH Musical Theatre consistently delivers.
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