Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sweeney Todd - I Think I'll Grow Out A Beard, Thank You Very Much - Review

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - National Tour - The Princess of Wales Theatre - Toronto
Music & Lyrics - Stephen Sondheim, Book - Hugh Wheeler, Director - John Doyle

It's a musical about a London barber who has some anger issues and starts killing people in his barber shop on Fleet Street. His accomplice Mrs. Lovett ends up baking the bodies into her meat pies which becomes a big hit. High School Musical this is not.

I've never actually seen or listened to the music from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street despite it being a classic from Sondheim. Shocking considering I'm such a musical freak. So I found myself listening intensely last night, trying to catch all the densely fitted words being sung as I watched the mesmerizing production directed by John Doyle. It was hard work. And to be honest, I think I admired it more than I loved it while I watched, but by the time I left the theatre after the haunting finale, it had all slowly soaked through me. I'll need to hear the music a few more times so that I can move from an intellectual appreciation to anything more but Doyle's direction once again takes the simplicity of the piece and places it bare boned (this case, almost literally) onto the stage, extracting the most out of an ingrained musical classic.

John Doyle is becoming famous as the director who doubles his actors as the orchestra, forcing his performers to act, sing and play instruments simultaneously on stage. There's no smoking breaks here. The cast of 10 led my Judy Kaye (below, Ragtime, Mamma Mia) as Mrs. Lovett and last night, understudy David Gary (taking over for an ill David Hess (in all the pictures) until Alexander Gemignani takes over Nov. 13) lead a terrific cast (many who worked in the original Broadway production) through a dark and strange twisted tale of murder mayhem, revenge and some meat pies.

I ended up seeing Doyle's version of Sondheim's Company three times on Broadway over the past year, so I was used to the actor/orchestra device, so much that I didn't even notice it during Sweeney Todd, but it's still a clever and affective parlour trick, albeit more thematically fitting in Company. Company has always been one of my favorite musicals ever. A single man in his 30's trying to figure out life and love surrounded by married friends. I get it. I always related. And now I'm almost becoming Bobby himself. It was the perfect marriage of the intellectually funny musical with something that would hit me emotionally. Sweeney Todd, as it starts off inviting you to the tale of the Demon Barber from Fleet Street, is much more of a thrilling tale, a great story for a great evening that sends shivers down the spine, but I never really got any emotional impact from it. It was chilling and the black comedy often amusing but it was a musical for the brain and not for the heart. Personally I need both to make it into my top favorite musicals, but a brain musical is still better than no brain at all (see Wicked, We Will Rock You, Starlight Express).

Benjamin Magnuson and Lauren Molina (above) are lovely as possible young lovers Anthony and Johanna, both from the original Broadway revival cast. Judy Kaye (below) grabs onto the roll of Mrs. Lovett (originated in the Broadway revival by Broadway diva Patti LuPone), making her both adorable as an plumper elder lady and more sinister in her lacksidaisical attitude towards the murders by Sweeney Todd. If there was one weakness, it was poor understudy David Gary who looked and acted perfect for the part but whose voice wasn't as strong as those surrounding him. Still, standing by for a Doyle show, where you must know multiple rolls AND the instruments to play must be one of the hardest jobs in the industry and he wasn't terrible in any manner. Just out of the standout cast, it was somewhat noticeable.

I'm still mesmerized by the set, a simple platform and backdrop of wooden slats, like a patio, lit from behind in changing colours that give the effect of a jail cell. Perfect since the scenario in this revival of Sweeney Todd is that of psych ward patients acting out the play. Everytime there's another killing, the stage turns to red as a bucket of blood is poured. A piercing sound rings out across the theatre. It's simple staging and it's quite brilliant. I'll never forget those scenes and the look of those murders played out.

The movie version, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter opens this Christmas with a video clip of the trailer here, so it will be interesting to see how Tim Burton takes something that seems tailor made for him and sees what he can do with this dark musical. Still, while I can't say I've fallen in love with the actual musical (though almost all Sondheims take a little time to get used to and are not the most catchy or instantly likable music), the Doyle directed production is something to be seen if you love musicals or anything dark and twisted. You won't regret attending the tale of Sweeney Todd.

Here's the video clip of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the 2005 Tony Awards with original leads Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett:

I have to admit, I think I loved Judy Kaye's performance much more than what I saw of Patti LuPone from that clip. GASP. I did not just dis Ms. Broadway Diva herself did I? Love her but best she be on Ugly Betty instead.

If you want more Sondheim, the critically acclaimed Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre revival of Sunday in the Park with George opens on Broadway on January 25th 2008 at Studio 54.

The National tour of Sweeney Todd continues in Toronto until Dec. 9th, 2007
It continues to:
Columbus, OH - Palace Theatre 12/11/07 - 12/16/07
Miami, FL - Carnival Center 1/1/08 - 1/6/08
Kansas City. MO - Music Hall 1/8/08 - 1/13/08
Dallas, TX - Majestic Theatre - 1/15/08 - 1/20/08
Greenville, SC - The Peace Center - 1/22/08 - 1/27/08
Pittsburgh, PA - Heinz Hall - 1/29/08 - 2/3/08
Minneapolis, MN - State Theatre - 2/5/08 - 2/10/08
Louisville, KY - Kentucky Center - 2/12/08 - 2/17/08
Cincinnati, OH - Aronoff Center - 2/19/08 - 3/2/08
Los Angeles, CA - Ahmanson - 3/11/08 - 4/6/08
Portland, OR - Keller Auditorium - 4/8/08 - 4/13/08
Tempe, AZ - ASU Gammage - 4/15/08 - 4/20/08
Chicago, IL - Cadillac Palace Theatre - 4/23/08 - 5/4/08
St. Petersburg, FL - Mahaffey Theater - 5/6/08 - 5/11/08
West Palm Beach, FL - Kravis Center - 5/13/08 - 5/18/08
Atlanta, GA - The Fox Theatre - 5/27/08 - 6/1/08
Houston, TX - Hobby Center - 6/3/08 - 6/15/08
Denver, CO - Buell Theatre - 6/17/08 - 6/29/08

1 comment:

DL said...

I am seeing this a week from today!! Can't wait. :)

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