Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Review by Doug Knoop

Also see David's reviews of Company and Cabaret

Ben Gonio
Photo by John McLellan
Sweeney Todd, a musical thriller by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, was set loose on New York audiences back in 1979. The nearly operatic tale of a wrongly imprisoned, 19th century London barber seeking revenge won multiple Tony Awards and has gone on to become a musical theater staple (and yes, there is currently another revival playing at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City).

Over at ArtsWest, in the bustling neighborhood of West Seattle, directors Matthew Wright and Eric Ankrim are offering up a somewhat scaled-down version of the tale. There are no fancy hydraulics or spattering blood, and there is a small cast. Even with these changes, the show has lost none of emotional impact.

The story begins in what looks like an empty warehouse/asylum with Mr. Todd (Ben Gonio) playing a few notes on a piano. What happens next perfectly sets the tone for the show and then we're off to the races. Todd first befriends a young sailor named Anthony (Jordan Iosua Taylor), and then the owner of a pie shop, Mrs. Lovett (Corinna Lapid Munter). As Todd's backstory unfolds, we discover he was previously called Benjamin Barker and has a daughter Johanna (Emilie Hanson) who is ward to the very Judge Turpin (Jeff Church) who sent Todd away. And as quickly as you can say "at last my arm in complete again," a revenge plot is set in motion.

(For those who've never seen this show, Mrs. Lovett makes meat pies in her shop—a fact that becomes a major plot point as the story progresses. Also, while I'd never give away the ending, think of Shakespeare's Hamlet and you'll have some idea of where the story is headed.)

Gonio and Munter anchor the production with solid work as the "demon barber" and his partner in crime. I would have liked to have seen a bit more madness behind Gonio's eyes, especially as the bodies begin to pile up. Munter's Mrs. Lovett is a standout, transitioning from down-on-her-luck baker to amorous lover to harried business owner with ease. The duet that closes act one ("A Little Priest") is a highlight.

The rest of the ten-person cast is uniformly superior, singing with gusto and relishing these meaty roles and storyline. Jimmie Harrod's mysterious Beggar Woman is heart wrenching, while Jon Lee-Vroman's tenor voice soars as the Beadle. Church's Judge Turpin revels in his evil doings and while Taylor, as Anthony has a lovely voice, I could have done with a lot less of his goofiness.

Bravo to the great music direction by Matt Hohensee and Steven Tran. Christopher Mumaw's stark scenic design, Tristan Roberson's spooky lighting design, and Kevin Heard's on point sound design combine to enhance this production immensely.

I'd suggest you get your tickets as soon as you can. This is an impressive take on one of Sondheim's classics.

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street at ArtsWest, Seattle, through July 1, 2017. Visit www.artswest.orgfor tickets and more.

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