Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
This full-bodied, hot-blooded production is Signature's third consideration of Sweeney Todd in its 20-year history, but the first in its current space. Director Eric Schaeffer and scenic designer James Kronzer have envisioned the musical thriller in a world of bare scaffolding, metal staircases, and drop cloths: both an innovative way of depicting a rough, unforgiving world and a homage to Eugene Lee's industrial design for the original 1979 Broadway production.
Schaeffer emphasizes the darkness, literal as well as metaphorical (thanks to Chris Lee's sepulchral lighting design), of Hugh Wheeler's book and Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics. In his view, the first action onstage is the raising of a bucket, leaking bloody water, from a trap door up to the flies.
With his piercing eyes, malleable face, and formidable intellect, Gero ably portrays Todd's decline into madness, showing the character as he changes from a person with justifiable grievances to a man who believes random slaughter is the only way he can take revenge on an unfair world. Just as good is Sherri L. Edelen, whose slovenly Mrs. Lovett is tough, assertive, and only occasionally cowed by Todd's growing insanity. They're also very funny when they need to be.
Schaeffer has made the interesting choice of presenting Anthony Hope (Gregory Maheu), the boyish sailor who saves Sweeney's life, as being just as obsessed with his goal of gaining Sweeney's daughter Johanna (Erin Driscoll) as Sweeney is with his apocalyptic dreams. They're both admirable, and a well-matched couple. Other standouts are Sam Ludwig as the guileless Tobias, Michael Bunce as the posturing rival barber Pirelli, and Channez McQuay as the despondent Beggar Woman. Less satisfying are Chris Van Cleave as Judge Turpinhe never oozes evil, even at his most malevolentand Chris Sizemore as a rather pallid Beadle.
Musical director Jon Kalbfleisch has drawn a rich orchestral sound from only four musicians (conductor/piano, woodwinds, cello and percussion), and Matthew Gardiner's musical staging succeeds in bringing the audience into the action. This is textually as complete a Sweeney Todd as one will see, including both the judge's solo and the second half of the Pirelli sequence.