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Washington DC by Michelle Butler


Sweeney Todd at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia

The 10th anniversary production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia is not to be missed! Under Eric Schaeffer's direction, this ghastly tale captures your attention immediately with the chilling "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and does not let you go until the very end.

The story of the demon barber of Fleet Street revolves around Sweeney Todd's obsessive desire to seek revenge on the man responsible for exiling him, destroying his wife, and stealing his child. While awaiting his opportunity for retribution, he and the entrepreneurial Mrs. Lovett, become partners in a horrific venture in which Sweeney Todd provides Mrs. Lovett with the pivotal ingredient for her meat pies after giving his customers the "closest shave" they will ever get. Aside from the obvious mature themes here (e.g., murder and cannibalism), there are some moments of startling realism in this show: one such moment occurs in the scene depicting Judge Turpin's lust for his ward Johanna, Sweeney Todd's daughter.

Norm Lewis plays Sweeney Todd with brooding intensity in his single-minded quest for revenge. Lewis is a powerful presence on stage -- much of his character's anger is internalized as he works to settle the score with his enemies, but this makes his sporadic outbursts of rage even more frightening. Lewis's big baritone serves him well, particularly in "My Friends," his gloriously disturbing ode to his razors, and "Pretty Women," his beautiful duet with the unsuspecting Judge Turpin.

Donna Migliaccio is absolutely wonderful as the cheerful yet lonely Mrs. Lovett. Migliaccio plays Mrs. Lovett with a combination of optimism, crafty self-interest, wistfulness, and unswerving practicality. These many layers almost allow you to forget the hideous conduct in which she is engaged. Migliaccio has great comic timing -- one of the highlights of the show comes at the end of the first act as she and Lewis sing "A Little Priest" when Mrs. Lovett, never one to let an opportunity pass her by, has her epiphany regarding the pragmatic use for Sweeney Todd's first victim. Migliaccio also shines in the poignant "By the Sea," as Mrs. Lovett sings of her longing for a future with Sweeney Todd while he, oblivious to her feelings, rants on about Judge Turpin. Migliaccio is very expressive, in both voice and manner, and you find that you care what happens to Mrs. Lovett in spite of her immoral deeds.

The supporting cast is excellent. Michael Sharp is very sympathetic as the naive Tobias and wonderfully protective of Mrs. Lovett in "Not While I'm Around." Lawrence Redmond makes it easy to loathe his wicked Judge Turpin as he lusts after his ward and rationalizes his decision to take her as his wife. Jennifer Royall plays the much desired Johanna with a spark of independence, while Chad Kimball is appropriately earnest as Johanna's suitor Anthony and delivers a sweet rendition of the song "Johanna." Dana Krueger presents another contradiction as the disturbed Beggar Woman with the lovely voice. Jimmy Smagula's Beadle provides a fine "yes man" and enforcer for Judge Turpin while John J. Kaczynski provides some lighter moments with flair as the con-artist Pirelli.

The 18 member orchestra (the largest orchestra ever at the Signature) delivers Sondheim's score beautifully. Even though this version is somewhat smaller than the Broadway version or the recorded version, the sound is rich and powerful. The Signature makes the most of its limited space with a set that creatively wraps around the performance space and comes complete with barber chair and trap door as well as a glowing orange oven in the basement. Note: Make sure you arrive on time because the stage is oriented such that the audience must walk across the stage in order to get to the seats.

Sweeney Todd has been extended through November 7. I highly recommend taking advantage of this additional opportunity to see this show.

Sweeney Todd Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler (from an adaptation by Christopher Bond). Directed by Eric Schaeffer. With Norm Lewis, Donna Migliaccio, John J. Kaczynski, Chad Kimball, Dana Krueger, Lawrence Redmond, Jennifer Royall, Michael Sharp, Jimmy Smagula, Philip Bender, Jean Cantrell, Ilona Dulaski, Daniel Felton, Rodney D. Hussey, Liz Isbell, Buzz Mauro, Rebecca Nacht, Tracy Olivera, R. Scott Thompson, and Timothy C. Tourbin. Musical direction by Jon Kalbfleisch. Setting by Lou Stancari. Lighting by Daniel MacLean Wagner. Costumes by Anne Kennedy. Sound design by David Maddox. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Properties by Avery Burns.

Through November 7 at the Signature Theatre. Call ProTix at (703) 218-6500 or (800) 955-5566 or visit their website.

-- Michelle Butler


Also see the 1999-2000 Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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