This play instead is about Sweeney Todd, the middle-aged, razor-wielding barber in 19th-century London. And this Great Lakes Theater staging of Stephen Sondheim's raucous and muscular musical is a bloody fine ride.
Even with some small wrinkles, the propulsive energy of this production catapults you into this nightmare tale, timed perfectly for the Halloween season (yes, it is a season now, not just the evening of October 31).
The operatic, plasma-drenched thriller, which first opened on Broadway in 1979, has many spurts of dark comedy. And both the chills and chortles are orchestrated with precision by director Victoria Bussert.
When the barber Benjamin Barker (under the alias Sweeney Todd) returns to London from an unjust incarceration, he learns that the corrupt judge who sentenced him has raped and destroyed his wife Lucy and claimed as a ward his daughter Johanna.
So the barber breaks real bad, deciding to slit the throat of the judge, along with pretty much anyone else who meanders into his second-floor tonsorial salon. On the plus side, this eliminates the need for investing in return-visit punch cards.
His partner in crime is Mrs. Lovett, the downstairs baker of the "worst (meat) pies in London" who has always been attracted to Barker/Todd. Slyly misleading him as to the fate of Lucy, Lovett proceeds to woo Sweeney. Soon, they bond over a plan to dispose of the bodies Todd is manufacturing by chopping them into pie filling.
This process leads to the Act 1 capper "A Little Priest," in which the duo cavort through Sondheim's clever lyrical litany of how certain professions of victims result in pies of a particular quality (piccolo player pies are piping hot).
Of course, it is mandatory to have a strong actor playing the slasher Sweeney, and Tom Ford fits the bill most capably. With his burnished bald dome gleaming (an homage to WW?), Ford quickly establishes a fierce and uncompromising presence.
And his powerful voice pops goose bumps in "Epiphany," as he plots to wreak vengeance on the corrupt rich and save the poor from their miserable lives—all through homicide. Don't you just love sociopathic reasoning?
As Lovett, Sara M. Bruner is a slim and hot-wired presence, slicing rats in half and tossing them into her popovers. While she doesn't have the strongest voice in all registers, Bruner generates plenty of laughs amid the carnage.
Todd's daughter Johanna and her young lover Anthony are well sung by Clare Howes Eisentrout and Zach Adkins. Jodi Dominick scores as the beggar lady with a past. And as Tobias Ragg, Chris Cowan triggers some feeling in the lovely "Not While I'm Around."
On the minimal downside, Mark G. Hawbecker is a particularly uninteresting Pirelli, the rival barber who turns out to be a con man. Fashioned as a cross between a steam-punk rocker and a vision out of a Tim Burton wet dream, this Pirelli is a one-note screech-fest. And as the Beadle, M.A. Taylor doesn't do much with his character or songs, outside of a well-turned glower.
It all begins on a curious note, since there is a coffin set up center stage before the singing starts. Sure, there is a cute special effect to come, but you hardly need a coffin when all the corpses are being turned into BLTs (that's brains, livers and toes). Of course, if it's just a way to mirror the coffin that is on stage in the same position at the start of Richard III, which is playing in rep at GLT, it's an inside joke that's a bit too far inside.
Nevertheless, this Sweeney latches on to the Grand Guignol style that Sondheim intended, and delivers it with gut punch energy. "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd?" Indeed, you should.
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