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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd
Edward Gero and Sherri L. Edelen
Washington audiences may know Edward Gero for his intense work as a classical actor with the Shakespeare Theatre Company and his performances in contemporary plays at Studio Theatre and elsewhere. Now he brings his mastery of the stage—as well as a powerful singing voice—to the title role of Sweeney Todd for Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, and he conquers.

This full-bodied, hot-blooded production is Signature's third consideration of Sweeney Todd in its 20-year history, but the first in its current space. Director Eric Schaeffer and scenic designer James Kronzer have envisioned the musical thriller in a world of bare scaffolding, metal staircases, and drop cloths: both an innovative way of depicting a rough, unforgiving world and a homage to Eugene Lee's industrial design for the original 1979 Broadway production.

Schaeffer emphasizes the darkness, literal as well as metaphorical (thanks to Chris Lee's sepulchral lighting design), of Hugh Wheeler's book and Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics. In his view, the first action onstage is the raising of a bucket, leaking bloody water, from a trap door up to the flies.

With his piercing eyes, malleable face, and formidable intellect, Gero ably portrays Todd's decline into madness, showing the character as he changes from a person with justifiable grievances to a man who believes random slaughter is the only way he can take revenge on an unfair world. Just as good is Sherri L. Edelen, whose slovenly Mrs. Lovett is tough, assertive, and only occasionally cowed by Todd's growing insanity. They're also very funny when they need to be.

Schaeffer has made the interesting choice of presenting Anthony Hope (Gregory Maheu), the boyish sailor who saves Sweeney's life, as being just as obsessed with his goal of gaining Sweeney's daughter Johanna (Erin Driscoll) as Sweeney is with his apocalyptic dreams. They're both admirable, and a well-matched couple. Other standouts are Sam Ludwig as the guileless Tobias, Michael Bunce as the posturing rival barber Pirelli, and Channez McQuay as the despondent Beggar Woman. Less satisfying are Chris Van Cleave as Judge Turpin—he never oozes evil, even at his most malevolent—and Chris Sizemore as a rather pallid Beadle.

Musical director Jon Kalbfleisch has drawn a rich orchestral sound from only four musicians (conductor/piano, woodwinds, cello and percussion), and Matthew Gardiner's musical staging succeeds in bringing the audience into the action. This is textually as complete a Sweeney Todd as one will see, including both the judge's solo and the second half of the Pirelli sequence.

Signature Theatre
Sweeney Todd
February 11th April 4th
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
From an adaptation by Christopher Bond
Anthony Hope: Gregory Maheu
Sweeney Todd: Edward Gero
Beggar Woman: Channez McQuay
Mrs. Lovett: Sherri L. Edelen
Judge Turpin: Chris Van Cleave
The Beadle: Chris Sizemore
Johanna: Erin Driscoll
Tobias Ragg: Sam Ludwig
Pirelli: Michael Bunce
Jonas Fogg: Matt Conner
Ensemble: Jean Cantrell, Matt Conner, Sean Maurice Lynch, Kevin McAllister, Katie McManus, Chris Mueller, Russell Sunday, Hannah Willman, Weslie Woodley
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Musical staging by Matthew Gardiner
Music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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