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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd

Also see John's review of An Iliad

The Slow Burn Theatre Company proudly presents the gruesome musical Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler. Set in the year 1846, the tale of Sweeney Todd is an adaptation of the 1973 Christopher Bond play based on a 19th century British penny dreadful in which a London barber is driven to murder after a malevolent judge takes his wife and child from him, and sentences him to serve time in a penal colony. The barber returns to his home years later, unrecognized and under the assumed name of Sweeney Todd, to find his wife gone and his teenage daughter now the ward of the judge. Sweeney plots his revenge, and forms a cutthroat partnership with Mrs. Lovett, the enterprising owner of a faltering pie shop. Upstairs from her pie shop, Sweeney reopens his barber shop and there, in the words of Sondheim, "He shaves the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again." Soon, Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett are producing the tastiest meat pies in London.

Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway at the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin) on March 1, 1979. The production, directed by Harold Prince, ran for 557 performances and won a total of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. An innovative revival of the show, directed by John Doyle, opened on Broadway in 2005. In Doyle's production, the cast was reduced to 10 main characters, and the chorus and orchestra were eliminated. The 10 main characters remained on stage throughout the entire show and played all the instruments themselves. Sets, props and costuming were scaled down as well. Despite mixed audience response, it received a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The Slow Burn production of Sweeney Todd is true to the original production concept.

The dark set that is the center piece for this tale serves its purpose well, but is a little less creative than those which usually grace the stage of Slow Burn productions. Naturally, there is the requisite barber chair used to dispose of Sweeney's victims, sending them on their way to the basement bake house, and a nicely turned out little parlor area complete with fire-singed harmonium. While this production skips the use of fake blood, it still retains all the suspense and violence. This is dampened slightly, however, by some actors who need to fine tune their timing when their "dead bodies" are being moved by other actor or revolving sets, as a few instances of clearly moving corpses caused some chuckles at the performance I attended.

Sondheim's score is played beautifully by musical director Manny Schvartzman, who seems to get better with each show; and group numbers featuring tight layers of harmonies are quite well sung by the ensemble (though the top sopranos screech a bit). Lighting and sound are flawless through the show. Some costuming/makeup choices seem a bit off. Mrs. Lovett is too put together, and in the second act her near perfect hair and complexion is puzzling in a dress that looks almost goth glam. A costuming oddity is the ensemble members, both male and female, wearing aviator goggles atop their head, when airplanes weren't invented until nearly 60 years after the setting of this musical.

Matthew Korinko's resonant baritone voice rings out as Sweeney Todd. There are many good moments in his performance, but he focuses too much on his anguish rather than his vengeance. He needs to be bolder at times in casting the logical emotional reaction to the wind. Karen Chandler as Mrs. Lovett has equally good moments, making it very clear that her motivation is her love for Sweeney. She really makes the parlor scene with the Beadle as funny as possible, and it truly seems her heart could break during "Not While I'm Around" when she realizes she must get rid of her beloved Toby. Her Mrs. Lovett is a bit too sane for my taste, though. Remember, she is not a woman driven astray by Todd. After all, it is she who comes up with the idea of making "Shepherd's pie peppered with actual shepherd on top." Driven by their mutual insanity, Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd should be deliciously diabolical, and both Korinko and Lovett need to up the stakes a bit to reach that goal.

Sean Dorazio as Beadle Bamford has a truly lovely voice. He and Rick Pena as Pirelli deliver the nearest to flawless version of their ridiculously high duet in the finale I've ever heard—including the original cast recording! Dorazio is heavy handed with the foppish nature of the Beadle, however, and feels compelled to put a hand gesture to every phrase to the point of distraction. Rick Pena does a nice job as Pirelli, but needs to make him as big when he reveals his true identity as he does in his first scene, so we really get that the character is a greasy little weasel, and feel no regret at his murder.

As Judge Turpin, Shawn Wayne King's self flagellation during the lustful "Johanna" is well done, and his vocal blend with Matthew Korinko is nice in "Pretty Women." Through no fault of his own he is really too young and handsome for this role. The fact that Judge Turpin is a man painfully past his prime should make his lust for the teenaged Johanna inherently creepy. In this production Turpin just looks too dashing.

Ann Marie Olson is perfection as the Beggar Woman—a role that is keenly underestimated as it has a high degree of difficulty. One legato moment plaintively calling out for "Alms for a miserable woman" quickly leads to lascivious offers of sex for money, and the next frantic screeches of "Mischief." She hits every singing note and gets every acting beat in what is written as a seemingly disjointed character, but in actuality is far from it. At the end of the show we also hear the lovely side of her singing voice, and see that she is as pretty as was alluded to earlier in the story. A young Bruno Vida, who plays Tobias, shows enormously promising talent. He shows sensitivity in acting the role, displays a fine singing voice, and even demonstrates some surprising dancing skills in choreographed moments such as in "God, That's Good."

Fitzwater's choreography for the second act opener "God, That's Good" is energetic and delightful—a welcome break from the dark nature of the show. However, his choreography in the sanitarium scene looks like a bad version of the dance from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. In that same scene he also muddles the action behind a sheet so that the audience doesn't get that it is Johanna not Anthony who pulls the trigger. It is an important character point that the seemingly fragile Johanna is as capable of murder as her father. His staging of the actual unveiling of the identity of the Beggar Woman is the most clearly I've ever seen it done, but then he confuses it by turning the ensemble into a Greek chorus. It is they, not Sweeney, who open the door to the furnace; and because of when they do it, it is very clear what is about to happen, when it should be a surprise. Again the Greek chorus gives away what is about to happen when Toby reappears in the bake house through their gleeful encouragements. Even though many of us know this show like an old friend, we still want the surprise elements left intact.

Though Slow Burn tends to specialize in the dark and twisted, surprisingly what makes this just a good production rather than the great one (of which Slow Burn has proven than capable) is that they have drawn some of the characters a bit too normal instead of letting them be crazy.

The Slow Burn Theatre production of Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street will be appearing through April 21, 2013. The theatre is located at the West Boca Performing Arts Center on the campus of West Boca High School, at 12811 West Glades Rd. in Boca Raton (3.5 miles west of 441). The Slow Burn Theatre Company is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) professional theatre company hiring local actors and actresses. They are committed to bringing high-quality contemporary musical theatre to South Florida, and proving that modern Broadway can rock. The company also offers technical internships to local students, providing them with professional experience. For more information on Slow Burn you may contact them by phone at— 866-811-4111 or line at

Sweeney Todd: Matthew Korinko
Mrs. Lovett:Karen Chandler
Anthony: Christian Vandepas
Johanna: KaelaAntolion
Tobias: Bruno Vida
Judge Turpin: Shawn WayneKing
Beadle: Sean Dorazio
Beggar Woman: Ann MarieOlson
Pirelli: Rick Pena
Steampunk/Ensemble: Kaitlyn O'Neill,Courtney Poston, Daniella Newton, Rick Hvivdak, Christopher Mitchell, MichaelSmith

Director/Choreographer: Patrick Fitzwater
MusicDirector: Manny Schvartzman
Scenic Design: Ian T. Almeida
LightingDesign: Lance Blank
Sound Design: Traci Almeida
Costumes: Rick Pena

Photo: Gemma Bramham

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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