Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Musical Theatre Southwest
Review by Carla Cafolla

Also see Rob's review of Drinking Habits and Carla's review of Gloria

The Cast
Photo by Lou Becker
Not even King David created such havoc or consequences claiming Bathsheba as was inflicted on the London citizenry by Sweeney Todd in retaliation for the actions of Judge Turpin, as shown in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (score by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler), now at Musical Theatre Southwest. Unable to have him killed in battle, the lusty judge fabricated a crime and sentenced the unfortunate barber, then known as Benjamin Barker, to transportation for life–all so he could make the even more unfortunate, but beautiful, Mrs. Barker, his own. We meet the now-mad barber some 15 years later, who, having escaped the colonies, has returned to the scene of the crime, vowing revenge. We also meet the handsome young Anthony, who, having saved Todd's life aboard ship, is set to become his daughter's suitor, all while not knowing who her father really is.

Todd is told that his beloved wife, as a result of an assault by Turpin, has died by suicide and his baby girl, Johanna, now also a beautiful young woman and the judge's ward, is now also in danger of being ravished by him. Having gleaned all this from a long-ago neighbor who coincidentally also kept his barbering tools in the hope he may one day return, Todd sets up shop above her run-down bakery business, and begins barbering with a vengeance. With his sparkling, shiny and trusty cut-throat razor, Todd practices his murderous new craft on the hypocritical locals in the run-up to his intended homicide of the dastardly Turpin.

Thanks to his accommodating landlady Mrs. Lovett, the problem that historically plagues serial killers–i.e., the disposal of the bodies–is solved in a manner worthy of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, with all the inconvenient remains being happily baked into pies in her handy-dandy downstairs bakery. An interesting way indeed of shedding the reputation for serving the "Worst Pies in London."

Eventually, Todd achieves his goal, then later discovers the connection between the beggar woman he murdered in a fit of rage and his wife. Afterward, he follows a dance of death with his culinary neighbor, leaving us feeling rather sympathetic toward this ill-fated barber with his serious anger issues.

MTS does its usual commendable work with this production. It's just a pity the play itself doesn't allow the cast to display their truly remarkable vocal abilities. I find it a distinctly un-melodic musical, with the only melodious number I recall being the tender "Not While I'm Around," sung by Mrs. Lovett and young Tobias. It's not the actors' fault–they no doubt delivered exactly as Sondheim intended–with a painful staccato. As has recently been the case, the band is too damn loud, which I'm not sure is a blessing or a curse in this particular production, but either way, I do feel for the actors with regard to this aspect of this show. Because otherwise, it is a great deal of fun. There is so much talent on the stage and so much thought obvious in its directing by Alissa Hall and stage management by Tobanna Barker, with choreographer Dru Martinez.

I was happy to see Ryan Pennington, stellar in the titular role of The Hunchback of Notre Dame a year ago, now playing Todd's soon to be son-in law, Anthony. Veteran performer Mark Pino does a great job in the title role, his Mallen streak only lending an extra zing to his persona. Mrs. Lovett, a role played by Angela Lansbury (such a wonderful talent) in the original 1979 Broadway production, based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond, ia played here with obvious enjoyment by Emily Carvey. The delightful boy, Tobias, played by Jonathan Cordova, is a tad tall for the character, but he is so charming, it really doesn't matter–and what else is he supposed to do with those long legs anyway? A distinctly disturbing Turpin, magnificently played by Drew Groves, has the audience thoroughly creeped out–exceptionally well done. And what can I say about the tragic Beggar Woman? Alternately heartbreaking and hilarious, she has some of the best moments in the show, and Natalie Hadley nails them all.

I'll leave you with this thought–MTS holds a raffle each night–a buck a ticket. It's for a pie. This left me in the very odd situation of hoping it was one raffle I didn't win. So go see this Sweeney Todd–it's a strange kind of fun.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs through June 24, 2023, at 6320 Domingo Rd NE, Ste B, (One block east of San Pedro, two blocks north of Central), Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, please visit, visit the box office, or call 505-265-9119.