Friday, October 19, 2012

Killing It - Bloodless and Sweeney Todd - Musical Reviews

Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare - Theatre20 at the Panasonic Theatre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music, Lyrics and Book by Joseph Aragon
Runs until Oct. 28th 2012

Sweeney Todd - Adelphi Theatre - West End - London, UK - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Hugh Wheeler, Adapated by Christopher Bond, Directed by Jonathan Kent
Closed Sep. 22nd 2012

There's an ambitious new Canadian musical being presented by the ambitious new Canadian musical theatre company Theatre20. While it falters at times in the typical first-musical-mistakes and still needs some polish and a few revisions and edits, I found Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare to be fairly entertaining and exciting in its promise and future development.

Of course, Bloodless does resemble Sweeney Todd in both story (of mass murders) and in tone and style, and writing anything that can be compared to a Sondheim masterpiece might be a lofty goal and instigate harsh comparisons, but once I accepted the idea that another musical can exist in similar a similar fashion, I found myself quite enjoying Bloodless, and some of the amusing shenanigans when a pair of struggling men descend into immoral territory as they start selling dead bodies to a unquestioning Professor of Anatomy at the local university. Based on a true case, the men and their wives begin murdering people to fill their pockets.

The songs are catchy and varied and the strong cast (Evan Buliung and Eddie Glen as Burke and Hare) are likable, and smooth out over some of the rougher character developments. While the main characters aren't written rounded enough to feel much empathy for their predicaments, and the satire isn't quite sharp enough to make it as strong as it could be, some editing and re-writes could make this new musical its own.

Carly Street gives an excellent performance as Janet Brown, a prostitute searching for her missing friend. The role has an underwritten beginning, but Street makes us empathize with her worries, though a better integration of her story would help.

While the latest West End revival of Sweeney Todd was pretty excellent overall (though with some minor quibbles), there was one main reason it was a must see, and that reason is named Imelda Staunton. Probably best known in North America for playing Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series, or her Oscar Best Actress nominated turn as Vera Drake, or a character actress in many many MANY films, Staunton has had a musical theatre background, and here, takes the role of Mrs. Lovett and turns in possibly one of the best performances I have EVER seen on stage. EVER. Staunton unravels before our eyes, slowly spurring and becoming mad for Sweeney Todd. Staunton is funny, delusional, and terrifying.  A truly rounded Mrs. Lovett that is absurd yet still believable.

While the rest of the cast is generally excellent, including Michael Ball as a strong Sweeney Todd, James McConville as Tobias, and Luke Brady as Anthony, Staunton's performance is at such a stratospheric level (without being over-the-top) that at times, the rest of the show fades against her. You could say it's a hazard of excellence.

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