SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREETBook by Hugh Wheeler, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Based on the 1973 play by Christopher Bond
Granbury Theatre Company
Director – Brian Lawson
Music Director – Duncan McMahan & Shannah Rae
Choreographer – Brooke Goodson
Scenic Designer – Phil Groeschel
Lighting Designer – Kalani Morrissette
Costume/Property Designer – Emily Warwick
Sound Designer – Kyle Hoffman
Scenic Artist – Kerri Pavelick
Technical Director – Kalani Morrissette
Stage Manager – Cessany Ford
Luke Hunt – Sweeney Todd
Emily Warwick – Mrs. Lovett
Dakota Brown – Tobias “Toby” Ragg
Christian Loper – Anthony Hope
Claudia Fain – Johanna
Greg Doss – Judge Turpin
Brian Box Lawson – Beadle Bamford
Shannah Rae – Beggar Woman
Geoff Sykes – Aldolpho Pirelli
A. Solomon Abah Jr. – Jonus Fogg
Cole Lucas – Bird seller
Kaitlyn Bailey, Katy Beckermann, Tristan Brock, Joshua Carpenter, Emily Clark, Jaime Hernandez, Connie Ingram, Piper McMahan-Jones, Faith Melton, Cody Mullican, Michele Austin Rodriguez, Kendall Spraggins, Kennedy Styron, Katie Tull, Zach Zagrocki
Reviewed Performance: 10/10/2015
Reviewed by Eric Bird, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Director Brian Lawson had a very talented cast to work with for the production of Sweeney Todd. The blocking was very clear and defined, creating a visual story throughout. The character development was definitely present and there was a relationship between each of the characters. This show came together very nicely to create a very enjoyable experience.
The music for Sweeney Todd is very complex. For such a difficult score, the music directors Duncan McMahan & Shannah Rae did extremely well. There were a few times where the actors were singing the lyrics and I had no idea what they had just said, though there were other times where I could hear every enunciation of the words, such as the clear emphasis they always put on the words “Fleet Street”. I especially appreciated how all the group numbers were clearly defined, creating a pleasant harmony of voices.
When the curtains came up we had the first view of the extremely detailed backdrop for the production showing us Fleet Street, where Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop and Todd’s barber shop are located. This meticulously detailed image, consisting mostly of gray, white and black colors brought us into the dark location where the story takes place. The extremely elaborate scenic design by Phil Groeschel worked extremely well for the production, with staircases that were moved to portray different locations. Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop at the opening of the performance shows a place that is definitely not doing very well, with amazing detail. It contained door to her pantry, a staircase to the barbershop, and little touches like spice racks to enhance the realism of her shop. While all of this was impressive, I was blown away by their trap door set up on the upper floor. It worked so well in the show and really helped to draw me in to the reality of the production. The giant oven of the pie shop was similarly impressive. Its light was very realistic and enhanced the eeriness of the musical.
Brooke Goodson was the choreographer for this production. The choreography was creative with many images throughout, adding a surreal feel that was both disturbing, yet engaging. The lunatics dancing in “City on Fire” had some of my favorite choreography for the production, though there were several songs throughout the performance that were creative and intriguing. The opening number automatically drew me in to the show and had me excited to see more. I felt that the choreography really blended into the music, as we see in the staccato movement that is repeated throughout the show, especially during “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”. The music and the choreography blended perfectly to create some amazing moments.
Lighting was designed by Kalani Morrissette. Starting at the opening of the show the light was a very vibrant red which, when reflected off the backdrop, created a horror movie onstage. There were other times where a green light was used to show different locations while maintaining the grim, dingy nature of the show. The lighting was detailed and was also very effective in portraying the characters throughout the production. There was a moment where the lights went out with a spotlight behind the cast which created a very impressive image. Even more impressive was a slow blackout when the fiery oven was on stage. The light dimmed so slowly that my eyes were forced to the oven, standing there as a hellish tormentor over the actors.
Emily Warwick designed the costumes and the properties for the production. The costumes were more difficult to follow, since they seemed to combine several time periods. While the theme was dominantly Victorian, there were many anachronistic costumes. Some worked to portray the nature of the character while others just seemed out of place. For example, Sweeney Todd wore a leather jacket for much of the show. This emphasized his cold, hardened nature. But Mrs. Lovett showed up in Act II wearing modern clothes and I couldn’t connect it to her character or to the story.
Emily Warwick also designed the properties, which worked extremely well for the production, adding a creepy realism to the stage. I especially enjoyed when Mrs. Lovett was making her pies onstage while singing “The Worst Pies in London”. She had actual dough to beat while she sang which added to the realism of the show. The razors used by Todd also added to the feel of the show, reflecting the light nicely to simulate a sharp edge.
The sound as designed by Kyle Hoffman worked well, always clear and at a very comfortable level. The timing of the sounds, especially whenever Todd killed someone, was always very clear and defined. The actors were easy to understand, though there were a few times where I couldn’t hear them as clearly as I would have liked. The other deaths and moments in the production were timed equally perfectly so that it had us constantly vigilant, watching to see what was going to happen next.
Luke Hunt played the lead role of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. Hunt brought realism to the stage which was both frightening, yet intriguing. As an actor, he was very strong, with great connection to the cast and especially his razors, as we see in the song “My Friends”. I was especially impressed with how well he stayed in character. He was so focused on his revenge that as he snapped his razors around his anger and frustration were palpable. As a vocalist, he didn’t start out as strong as I would have liked, though this improved throughout the performance. This improvement was especially notable in the songs “God That’s Good”, and “The Judge’s Return”.
Emily Warwick was phenomenal in her role of Mrs. Lovett, the proprietor of Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop. Warwick has an exceptional voice, which was very evident during the songs “Poor Thing” and “A Little Priest”. The way she portrayed her character was appropriately disturbing, creating a full persona onstage that knew her place in the world of the play. One thing I really appreciated about Warwick was that she maintained an accent throughout the show, helping me to feel like I was watching a true English pie shop owner.
The simple minded young man Tobias “Toby” Ragg was played by Dakota Brown. Brown nailed this role, starting us out with the very simple minded view of the world and changing throughout the different experiences he has. Brown had a very complex character that he developed well. Every action from him made sense for his character. His incredible vocal skills were very notable during the songs “”God That’s Good” and “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixer” and combined admirably with exceptional, and very creepy acting throughout the production.
The young sailor Anthony Hope that falls deeply in love with Johanna is played by Christian Loper. Loper is a great performer with an incredible voice, which was apparent during the songs “Johanna” and “Kiss Me Part I”. I especially enjoyed how Loper carried himself onstage and interacted with the world of the play, keeping a youthful innocence, yet going for the woman that he loves.
Judge Turpin’s ward Johanna is played by Claudia Fain. Fain was very strong in her performance, especially during the songs “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” and “Kiss Me Part I”. She has a very good voice that is pleasant to hear. Fain also enunciates well so I was able to understand her lyrics easily. Her acting was sometimes over the top, as in “Kiss Me Part II”. Perhaps this was to tie in to the comic aspects of the musical, but it was overdone for me.
The corrupt Judge Turpin who was infatuated with Todd’s wife and later by Johanna is played by Greg Doss. Doss has a very good voice which I enjoyed hearing whenever he was onstage. His commanding presence worked very well in role of Judge Turpin and his singing during the “Kiss Me Part II (quartet)” and his duet with Todd were very pleasant to listen to. Overall Doss doesn’t have much time on the stage, but his presence is known when he is there.
Brian Box Lawson played the part of Beadle Bamford, Judge Turpin’s accomplice and right hand man. Lawson has a very comfortable feel about him onstage, which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing. His performance during the songs “Ladies In Their Sensitivities” and “Parlour Songs” was very relaxed and confident, which worked extremely well for his character.
The beggar woman was appropriately gruesome and shocking as played by Shannah Rae. Her body language really worked for her character. She would strut about provocatively to offend the other characters and this worked well for her. Rae did such a good job at disgusting me that I was caught off-guard by how good her voice was in “City On Fire.” She has a very pleasant voice and hit all of her notes well.
Aldolpho Pirelli, the creator of “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixer, was played by Geoff Sykes. Sykes played his role extremely well, with a very enjoyable performance for his solo “The Contest”. His confidence onstage as he arrogantly sharpened his razors, ignoring any fingers that got too close to his leather strap, showed his disregard for the well-being of others. His interactions with the other characters fit in well with his character. The way he humorously threw his voice from his normal singing voice to falsetto really helped to build the humor in the show.
The performance of the ensemble was a joy to experience, with dynamic and strong dancing and very clear vocals throughout. They did especially well as lunatics in an asylum, rocking back and forth, widening their eyes, and being creepy in general. The images that they created were always clear and added a bizarre feel to the production that helped to create a fantastic show.
I thoroughly enjoyed this production as performed at the Granbury Opera House; it is well worth the drive to see. What better way to celebrate Halloween than to see an amazing production of a demon barber and his blood-thirsty ‘friends’?
Granbury Opera House, 133 East Pearl St., Granbury, TX 76048
Performances run through November 8th.
Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm.
TICKET PRICES :
Adult - $25
Seniors (65 and over) - $22
Students (Age 13 – College) - $22
Children (12 and under) - $20
For info and to purchase tickets, go to www.granburytheatrecompany.org or call (817) 579-0952.