Sweeney Todd has been shown over and over to be open to all sorts of approaches and interpretations – large or small scale, darkly humorous or pure horror, literally visualized or symbolically represented. With the touring production of John Doyle's take on the piece, we now have an interpretation within an interpretation. While the 2005 Broadway revival of Doyle's actors-as-orchestra set in a modern-day-madhouse was unrelentingly dark and intense, the production now at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre through May 4th is more in the black humor mode. For those who have seen Doyle's Sweeney Todd and Company and have become accustomed to seeing actors double as the orchestra, it's appropriate enough to shift focus to character interpretation, particularly given the distinctive performers in this cast.
Judy Kaye has been playing Mrs. Lovett for a while, and has done the part opposite Sweeneys that include the role's originator Len Cariou as well as George Hearn, who may be even more closely with the part than Cariou. Fans of the piece will want to see Ms. Kaye's Lovett – a dowdy but tough cookie who here seems at least as dangerous as Sweeney. As the Demon Barber, David Hess is a most worthy Sweeney. He's more human and empathetic than Johnny Depp or Michael Cerveris, whose Sweeneys were more possessed and demonic. Hess's Sweeney is weary and sad, but possessing a better sense of humor than the Sweeneys of Depp and Cerveris. This approach lets him build more of an arc for the character and the piece.
Keeping with the tour's lighter approach to the musical, the supporting roles are interpreted more comically and broadly than I remember from Doyle's 2005 Broadway production. Benjamin Magnuson repeats his Broadway role as Anthony, but here seems to be more foolish and somewhat of a hick while Lauren Molina is more of the traditional ditzy blonde than I recall. The tour's Toby, Edmund Bagnell, goes way farther over the top than did the highly regarded Manoel Felciano on Broadway. Bagnell's Toby becomes particularly frantic as the character figures out the murderous scheme of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. Just a year out of NYU, Bagnell is a real find and plays a mean violin. Keith Buterbaugh, Harry in Doyle's Company last year, plays Judge Turpin as more pompous and vain than sinister, but Benjamin Eakeley's Beadle is sinister enough for the two of them and convincingly despicable. Diana DiMarzio repeats her impressive Broadway performance as the Beggar Woman.
I'm a fan of the recent film version, but I have to say it was awfully nice to hear the score sung by real singers. The tour has only a few more stops, closing in June in Denver, and those who may still be able to catch it would be well advised to do so. Doyle's choice to approach the piece from a different angle makes it well worth a return visit for those who may have seen it on Broadway, and, in any event, a major production of this classic piece performed by a top-rate cast is always welcome.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will play the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Chicago, through Sunday, May 4th. Tickets are available at Broadway in Chicago box offices and through Ticketmaster.