Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review of "Sweeney Todd"

Thrilling.  Stunning.  Triumphant.  The Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of the musical Sweeney Todd is the theatrical event of the summer.  This is a show that would not be out-of-place Off-Broadway.  Every element of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler classic is superb and strikingly performed.

The story opens on the streets of Victorian London.  We learn that, years ago, Benjamin Barker, now known as Sweeney Todd, was unjustly hauled away to the Botany Bay penal colony by the unscrupulous Judge Turpin so he could have his way with his beautiful wife Lucy.  Now, back in the capital city, he vows revenge on those who wronged him.   Taking up his old profession of barber, he teams up with Mrs. Lovett, the proprietor of a shop that sells “the worst pies in London.”  Together they plot murder, mayhem and retribution with ruinous consequences.
Liz Larsen as Mrs. Lovett and Terrence Mann as Sweeney Todd in SWEENEY TODD directed by Peter Flynn, onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre thru July 1, 2018.  Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113.  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
The book by Mr. Wheeler is wondrously somber and delightfully homicidal as the individuals are propelled to their fates.  There is a healthy amount of humor mixed in with the pathos of the characters, who are well-defined and bring forth our sympathy as well as our detestation. 

The score by Stephen Sondheim shows him at the peak of his composing prowess.  This is his most fulfilling score full of gorgeous ballads (“Green Finch and Linnet Bird” and “Johanna”), impassioned compositions (“My Friends” and “Epiphany”), and wonderfully comic numbers (“The Worst Pies in London” and “A Little Priest”).  They superbly demonstrate his word-play savvy and proficiency for finely crafted melodies.

The cast combines seasoned, Tony Award nominated actors and actresses and outstanding University student performers.  Everyone, from the leads down to each ensemble member, is impressive.  They are led by Terrence Mann as Sweeney Todd.   He is the very essence of a tortured soul, radiating distrust and malevolence towards his enemies.  The actor brings a multi-faceted palette to the role ranging from overstated bravado to whimpering outcast.  Mr. Mann has a commanding presence, which is necessary for such an overarching role.  Liz Larsen is a cunning, slightly daffy Mrs. Lovett, who combines a sense of misguided loyalty with rousing abandon.  She pairs well with Terrence Mann, forming a symbiotic relationship that is exuberant to behold, yet toxic in the end.  Two other notables among the very fine cast are Ed Dixon as the lecherous Judge Turpin, a loathsome and contemptible man of the bench.  The actor plays the part with relishing satisfaction.  Kenneth Galm is angelic as the young boy, assistant to the charlatan Senor Pirelli.  He possesses a golden voice and the simple charm of a wayward lad.

Director Peter Flynn assuredly helms the musical, integrating all the actors and creative components into a superior production.  He has flawlessly manufactured an almost surreal world that is both chilling and sinister.  His work with the ensemble is exemplary.  They shift and squirm as an amorphous unit or, when called upon, as singular sentries among the denizens of the industrial aged city.

Music Director Ken Clifton has on the on-stage orchestra in perfect sync, masterfully delivering the brilliant score.  His work interweaving voices into small and large part harmonic renderings is skillfully and exquisitely executed.

The design elements enrich the production with sometimes subtle, yet pronounced flourishes.  Tim Brown’s sets, minimal as they may be, nonetheless, clearly convey the structures and surroundings of the lower class’s existence.  Christina Lorraine Bullard’s costumes accurately reflect the clothing for both the upper and lower classes.  Her make-up for the ensemble members is ghostly, almost non-human.  Alan C. Edwards’ lighting express tone and atmosphere as well as a few droplets of blood.

Sweeney Todd, not to be missed, playing at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre only through July 1st.

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