Also see David's review of Richard III
Sweeney Todd, also known as the demon barber of Fleet Street, served years in prison and, as the musical opens, he is finally free. He seeks revenge on Judge Turpin, who sent Todd to prison, raped his wife and turned her to the streets. Early in the story the audience learns that Turpin holds Johanna, Todd's daughter, as a ward and plans to force Johanna to marry him.
The story is ripped from the pages of the Penny Dreadfuls, which were popular in England at the start of the nineteenth century. Penny Dreadfuls sold for a penny and the stories were dreadful tales of mystery or horror.
Todd rents rooms above Mrs. Lovett's kitchen and pie shop. They become friends and, perhaps, lovers. She knows his dark secrets and doesn't tell anyone. Todd opens his barber establishment, cuts the throats of his enemies, and disposes of the bodies by running them through a meat grinder for Mrs. Lovett to bake into her popular meat pies.
In 1979, I was fortunate to see Sweeney Todd on Broadway with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in the leading roles. A few months later they received Tony Awards for their performances, and the show won the Tony for Best Musical. Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and Hugh Wheeler (book) also received Tonys.
The Great Lakes Theater production is as strong as the original Broadway production. Tom Ford (Sweeney Todd) commands the stage as a singer and actor. His Todd doesn't let anything deter his focus on the sweet revenge he so desperately craves. Sara M. Bruner (Mrs. Lovett) brings bolts of lightness to balance Todd's darkness. Though I've known Bruner to be a talented actor, she surprised me by being a gifted singer.
The lovely Clare Howes Eisentrout as Johanna has a complete change of charactergoing from the imprisoned ward of Judge Turpin to being free to marry the man she loves. Eisentrout modulates that change and new-found independence as she leads the audience with her in her search for self-discovery.
M. A. Taylor (The Beadle) and Darren Matthias (Judge Turpin) are perfect villains, making being bad so good. One could wish to boo at their entrances and their curtain calls.
Victoria Bussert (director) is one of the best directors in this area. In this production she keeps the pace rapid and still helps her actors create distinct characters. She takes advantage of the Hanna Theatre's stage, platforms and aisles. She acknowledges the darkness of Todd and his desire for vengeance, yet juxtaposes that darkness with lightness of Mrs. Lovett and some of the minor characters.
At the curtain call the ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra walk to the center of a catwalk high above the stage to receive warm applause from the cast and the audience.
Unfortunately, Sweeney Todd continues only through November 2, 2013. This production is playing in repertory with Richard III. Everyone in the cast of Sweeney Todd has a role in Richard III.
Both Sweeney Todd and Richard III provide their audiences with enough blood and revenge to carry us through the fall season. Following, the Great Lakes Theater will offer the 25th anniversary production of A Christmas Carol (November 30 through December 22, 2013), and early next year Deathtrap (February 21 through March 16, 2014) and As you Like It (April 4 through 19, 2014). For ticket information, contact 216-664-6064 or visit www.greatlakestheater.org.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
- David Ritchey