Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Sweeney Todd is set in 19th century London and tells the tale of a barber named Benjamin Barker who has been falsely imprisoned for fifteen years. When he finds his way back to London, he changes his name to Sweeney Todd and sets out to seek revenge against Judge Turpin, the man who wanted to steal away the barber's wife Lucy so he had him exiled away to Australia. Upon his return, Todd discovers that Lucy took poison and was driven to suicide and that Turpin now intends to marry Todd's grown-up daughter Johanna. While Todd waits for his turn to get Turpin in his barber chair so he can slit his throat, the conniving Mrs. Lovett, who runs an unsuccessful meat pie shop under the room where Todd used to live and work, assists him in his efforts and together they also find a profitable way to dispose of the numerous bodies Todd kills on his way to getting justice.
Sweeney Todd may be a dark musical about a murderous barber who seeks revenge and kills everyone who gets in his way, but it also has one of musical theatre's best scores. For its original 1979 Broadway production, it was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning eight, including the Tony Award for Best Musical. Sweeney Todd beautifully interweaves moments of black comedy and elements of Grand Guignol theater with the incredible wit in both Sondheim's lyrics and Wheeler's dialogue and the intense and identifiable story of redemption and the act of seeking revenge for injustice. Sondheim's score is almost non-stop throughout, featuring soaring ballads, introspective numbers, comical tunes with witty wordplay in the lyrics, and lush group numbers.
Kiel Klaphake's direction provides the perfect moody tone for the piece with a proper balance between drama and black comedy, and he ensures none of the serious, scary moments ever cross over into being too humorous. His staging works extremely well and makes wonderful use of Aaron Sheckler's two-story set. His perfect use of the ensemble in the crowd scenes and the sequences that take place on the London streets give a sense of the large, varied population of the city. James May's music direction is superb, with a cast and orchestra who deliver gorgeous notes and sounds for every song in what I believe is Sondheim's best score. Kathleen Trott's costumes and Amanda Gran's wigs are perfect, while Steve O'Shea's lighting provides the appropriate level of moody shadows and dark touches. Connor Adams's sound design ensures every lyric and line of dialogue is crystal clear, with a perfect sound balance between cast and orchestra. I don't know who is responsible for the blood effects in the show but they are even more realistic and shocking than the ones in last year's production.
I wrote in my review last year that Tony Edgerton was sensational as Todd, and his performance has only deepened in providing the perfect sense of brooding and focus for the obsessed Todd. He also instills just the right combination of menace and moodiness, making the audience see just how dangerous and unhinged a man Todd is, and we see in his laser focus that Todd is always thinking of his next move. Edgerton's singing voice is sensational, with pure and clear tones on every one of his songs. It's one of the best performances of Todd I've witnessed in the dozens of productions of this musical I've seen.
Likewise, Cassandra Klaphake has also grown in her excellent portrayal from last year as the no-nonsense Mrs. Lovett. Klaphake's fine-tuned performance lets us see that Lovett is just as calculating as Todd, but for different reasons. We clearly understand that Lovett is determined to get what she wants and that she realizes that, with Todd's partnership, she can get happiness and a man at the same time if she plays her cards right. Klaphake also brings an appropriate sense of warmth to the role, which helps in making her ability to persuade others to do her bidding seem realistic. Her vibrant singing voice also ensures that her songs evoke the same forceful and charming characteristics as the character.
Also returning from last year's production are Ryan Michael Crimmins as Anthony, a young sailor who befriends Todd and ends up falling for his daughter Johanna, and and Steve McCoy as the evil and lecherous Judge Turpin. Both men deliver rich and refined performances of these two very different men. Crimmins' singing voice is bright and clear, delivering a strong version of his solo "Johanna," and McCoy's take on his role is appropriately eerie. Meggie Siegrist is still excellent as the half-crazed Beggar Woman, with a soaring singing voice, while Tristan Klaphake's sweet disposition and curious nature work very well as Tobias, the assistant to the barber named Pirelli, with a youthful sense of curiosity. Seeing real life mother and son Cassandra and Tristan Klaphake deliver the show's best-known song, "Not While I'm Around," with an abundance of tenderness is a highlight.
Actors new to the cast this year include Nicki Elledge as Johanna, Matt Flocco as Pirelli, and Matthew Mello as Turpin's lecherous right hand, the Beadle. All three provide portrayals that are clear and strong, with Elledge's sweet nature and lilting voice, Flocco's astute and crafty line delivery, and Mello's clear sense of danger adding nice layers to their characters.
With creative elements featuring bold and stark elements with appropriate pops of color, and a cast who have no problem maneuvering their way around the challenging Sondheim score, Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of Sweeney Todd is still as haunting and beautiful as last year's Herberger production. The dinner menu includes some themed dishes, including "Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie," which I highly recommend. I'm glad I went back for a second helping of this masterpiece of a musical.
Sweeney Todd runs through November 9, 2019, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623-776-8400.
Book by Hugh Wheeler
*Member, Actors' Equity Association