Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: APRIL 2, 2010
In this cruel and inequitable world, it’s eat or be eaten,” according to the title character in “Sweeney Todd.” And he makes good on his sinister philosophy.
Consumed by a ravenous vengeance, he has returned to London after a 15-year forced exile in Australia , hellbent on destroying the malevolent, lecherous judge who sent him away, lusting after his wife and now planning to marry his daughter. As his partner in crime, Sweeney hooks up with something of a shady-lady, one Mrs. Lovett, a cheerfully cannibalistic piemaker .
As Sweeney’s hunger for retaliation intensifies, so does his madness. Mrs. Lovett, who has a long-standing passion of her own, dreams of a future with Sweeney by her side. Thrilled to have him under her own vermin-infested roof, she’s happy to help him make mincemeat of his enemies – or any other hapless Londoner who happens into his tonsorial parlor. The “demon barber” lathers them up and slits their throats, and she merrily employs the spoils to improve the taste of her tarts. Then, as these murderous schemes inevitably go, things spiral out of control.
Pretty macabre and maniacal for a musical, but it’s bloody good fun. Cygnet Theatre has totally sunk its teeth into this juicy classic. The production is absolutely spectacular. Using just five musicians and a tight, mega-talented cast of eleven, the company brings to gory, gorgeous life Stephen Sondheim’s most brutal and brilliant score.
The multi-level set features the grimy brick of soot-covered Victorian London, magnificently lit, from dim shadows to blood-red alarms. The Old Town stage is put to excellent use: a slamming trap door; a smoggy skyline; a barber-chair that, with the flip of a lever, sends the victim tumbling down to a great, blistering oven below. It’s deliciously grisly, with stunning stage work and magnificent performances.
In the two meatiest roles, Cygnet artistic director Sean Murray is splendid as the barbarous barber, and Deborah Gilmour Smyth , associate artistic director of Lamb’s Players Theatre, is stupendous as the savage pastry-chef. Both are in marvelous voice, and they bring subtlety, even sympathy, to this deadly duo. The rest of the cast is outstanding, either in multiple, quick-change incarnations or as individual, well-crafted characters like an ostentatious Italian barber; a simple-minded apprentice; a toothless, wailing beggar-woman; or a scurvy , self-flagellating judge. And of course, to offset the depravity, there’s a delightfully innocent pair of young lovebirds.
The ingenious staging is by Murray and his co-director, James Vasquez . The costumes are period-perfect; the entire effort and effect are meticulous and just about flawless.
So, if you’ve got a bit of blood-lust, or Sondheim fever, or musical theater obsession, this is an absolute Must-See. Actually, it’s a Better-Not-Miss for any theaterlover. This is one terrific evening of beautiful butchery. It’s fiendishly fun.
“Sweeney Todd” has already been extended through May 9, at Cygnet’s Theatre in Old Town .
©2010 PAT LAUNER