Two of Us’ ‘Sweeney Todd’ features nuanced performances, subtle beauty
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Book by Hugh Wheeler,
Music and Lyrics
by Stephen Sondheim
(adapted from the play by Christopher Bond)
Directed by Stephen
by J. Peter Bergman
"Nothing's gonna harm you, not
while I'm around"
There's nothing sweeter than complete revenge, except
when it exceeds its goal, except when its set to music. This is the lesson we
learn from the musical "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet
Street." By the final chorus of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd"
which follows the final scene of the play just about everyone is dead and there
is still "no place like London." That's why they call the entire
genre musical comedy; even when its not a comedy, it's fun. In the new
regional production by The Two Of Us Productions, playing in Craryville, NY the
fun is in the music, the prformances of the lead performers and you can be sure
that nothing will harm you, that the "Grand Guignol" is less than
grand and the evening will be a sweet one after all.
There is a beggar woman who sings her peculiar chant throughout
She is simply a mad woman who roams the streets around Fleet Street making
everyone crazy as she begs, implores, extorts and pretends to be a prostitute
gone wrong. That this woman holds a key to the secret journeys of both Sweeney
and Mrs. Lovett is central to the show, making her, essentially, the second
most important character in the play - you just don't know it until the final
scene. She is beautifully sung and nicely played by Benita Zahn.
Sparring with her for that spot on the roster is young
Toby Ragg, played
here by Carmen Lookshire who proves to be a viable alternative to the usual
quirky-voiced males who have played the role. I wasn't sure at first that a
female Toby would work, but she proved me wrong. Her singing was marvelous and
though she never showed me her eventual madness, she sure pulled off the final
Of course the full weight of a Sweeney Todd is invested
in the Sweeney. Joshuah Patriarco has chosen the insanity forced upon a man
through his need for vengeance to shape his character. There are few grades of
crazy for him. He starts insane and ends insane. But his voice carries the
power in Sondheim's music and the single-mindedness of someone for whom rage is
the best example of control. It is a dynamic set of choices fully realized in
everything he does. It does make you wonder, though, about Mrs. Lovett and her
unavoidable attraction to the man.
Played by Constance Lopez, she is clearly his equal.
Having inherited her meat pie business from her diffident husband, she sees in
the dynamically centered Sweeney the right man for her. His obsession matches
her own and as Lopez shows us in her first song, she has rhythm difficulties
that leave her obsessed as well. Lopez is truly at her best here, especially in
the song "By the Sea" which is a triumph of humor in absencia when
she exposes her childhood dream to the maniac she adores. She has brilliant
moments throughout the show and this is clearly a role she is making her own
with no allegiance to the women who came before her, for which I am grateful;
I've grown tired of pseudo-Angela Lansburys playing the role. There are other
ways to present her, as Lopez clearly shows in this production.
The entire company does well with their roles. William
Flaim is a beautiful singer, just perfect for Anthony Hope, the juvenile hero
of the play. Isabel Costa handles his ladylove, Johanna very well. As her
guardian, Judge Turpin, Frank Leavitt sings a marvelously evil man beautifully
even if his sado-masochism is downplayed here. His buddy in badness, The
Beadle, has been given a perfectly devious interpretation by Brian Yorck. Sam
Sultan as Pirelli was a bit disappointing vocally.
Stephen Sanborn, director and conductor, has done
decently by the play, exacting nuanced performances from his cast. He does even
better with the large orchestra playing Sondheim's music. This show, unlike
other Broadway fare, is Sondheim's American Opera and the orchestra under Sanborn's
control, delivers the music like a Debussy score, or a Bizet or Schubert
composition. They play for subtle beauty in the music and deliver a strong
score in such a way as to make you hear the inner souls of the characters. I
wish the company had a third week of performances. So much would develop
between the forestage and onstage companies.