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The Razor Swung Wide

The Razor Swung Wide

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“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.” A grim tale it is, rife with death, lust, and murder. The latest production to be mounted at the Chaminade University Performing Arts Department is a large undertaking in scope and in cast. Stephen Sondheim’s musical based on the Christopher Bond play is grand and elaborate, especially musically, and the descent into Todd’s maelstrom of darkness is a treat for all. To those worried about how bloody it will be- worry not, there was nary a blood spatter. Their bloodied effects were accomplished tastefully with costume and lighting- those faint of heart can breathe.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the story of disgraced and exiled barber, Sweeney Todd, who returns to London with the help of young sailor Anthony Hope. There, he meets Mrs. Lovett, who has opened up a meat pie shop underneath his old apartment and helps to unravel the mystery of who Todd really his. Originally named Benjamin Barker, he was transported out of Britain by Judge Turpin with the help of Beadle Bamford. With Barker out of the way, Turpin moved in and helped himself to Todd’s wife, luring her to his residence and raping her. Todd’s wife, Lucy, then poisoned herself and thus their infant child, Johanna, became the ward of Judge Turpin. Reclaiming his old razors from Mrs. Lovett, he swears to claim his revenge against Turpin, no matter what.

The principals of this production really drive it home. Kip Wilborn plays a nuanced and likable Sweeney Todd, and watching (and hearing) his descent into the umbra was quite the treat. Shari Lynn is a very funny and charming Mrs. Lovett, who never wasted a line or lyric in her journey to win over Todd’s affections and preserving her business. David Bachler was almost unrecognizable as the malevolent Judge Turpin, his looming figure and booming voice assuring that he is not to be trifled with. Gabriel Giasolli is an earnest Anthony Hope, and matches well with Riley Noland’s Johanna Barker, who is played with the graceful firmness that is required of a ward that wishes to escape her bonds. Terry Yocham was great as an oily Beadle Bamford, and Suzanne Green’s Beggar Woman flipped her emotional poles with finesse. Nicholas Meyers was an interesting choice for Tobias Ragg. Usually played as an older man (30 or so) or more recently, as a child, Meyers did not look like either, and it gave me pause as some of Toby’s story beats didn’t land as hard as they should have. That isn’t his fault though, as Meyers stayed consistent throughout the production and played the role delightfully. Rounding out the principals we have Laurence Paxton, who was clearly at home playing the boisterous tenor Adolfo Pirelli, and Jeffery Brackett’s Jonas Fogg, the sinister head of the mental institution Anthony has to visit.

Unfortunately the ensemble was not as put together as the principals before them. I feel they were under utilized and not given enough direction to really highlight and enhance the production. The clumsy staging of them during Turpin’s rape scene on stage left where it wasn’t clear what anyone was doing, the meander and shuffle they had during the opening moments of the production, how they just popped in right after a scene was done, as if they were just told to be there- they seemed to be an after thought to the production, which was an unfortunate turn with a cast that large.

Ultimately, this production was hard to watch not because of the performances but because of the sound. If you were sitting in the first three to six rows at Mamiya Theatre, the speakers were a constant cacophonous assault on your ears. Everything seemed way too loud, and some pieces of the orchestra seemed mic’ed for no reason at all (the snare drum was an odd choice). Also, the cast had mic issues on the night I saw it- many times at the end of a scene and into a transition, mics were not turned off, which led to two or three tracks of heavy breathing from the ether and the occasional stifled giggle was heard from cast members that maybe flubbed something or indicated a misstep in choreography. Very distracting. There is also a train whistle used throughout the production, and what is meant to be a piercing shrill turns murderous on the speakers which were far too loud. I had moved at intermission, and things were a bit better, but only just.

If the audio issues were to be ironed out, then I would encourage audiences to come and see the delightful performances that the leads carry and the story they intricately weave. The set design by Christina Sutrov is detailed and effective, save for her furnace- it looked out of place alongside the rest of her set pieces. Sr. Grace Capellas' costume design fits and suits many of the characters very well. Jonah Bobilin's lighting design works, until I realized how much red he uses, which some scenes saw a lessened impact with because it was seen and highlighted some scenes before. 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a lot to digest, but it is overall a dark yet beautiful piece of musical theatre. Not all aspects of Chaminade’s production were even and consistent, but should the audio be balanced and resolved, there may still lie a delightfully macabre evening to enjoy.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs April 20-22 at Mamiya Theatre. $25 General Public; $15 students, children, seniors, Chaminade faculty and staff Purchase tickets online at www.showtix4u.com.

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