Sweeney Todd at Skylight

Christina Hall and Andrew Varela

Andrew Varela as Sweeney Todd

 

Ryan Stajmiger

Nothing like a fun night at the theater than lots of lies, lots of blood,   a little bit of cannibalism and a touch of incest.

Oh, and throw in some young lovers overcoming a bucket full of objection and a story told in very little straight dialogue but rather music – some of the greatest music in the history of musical theater.

If you guessed Sweeney Todd, you have guessed right and you ought to tell your friends to get tickets to see the production that opened over the weekend at Skylight Music Theater in the Third War.

The full title of this Stephen Sondheim masterpiece is “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Under the masterful stage direction of Matthew Ozawa and Music Director Ben Makino, Skylight is closing its season with as powerful and mesmerizing a production as I’ve seen all year.

The show is highlighted by breathtaking performances from two spectacular leads, and a collection of actors, singer and dancers who all deliver and support the leads and the story.

The tale of Sweeney Todd is well known in the world of musical theater.

Sweeney (Andrew Varela) is a barber who was banished from his London home by the cruel Judge Turpin (Randall Dodge) so that the judge can pursue Sweeney’s wife, Lucy.

Sweeney escapes and heads home, but is set adrift in a sea, only to be rescued by Anthony Hope (Lucas Pastrana) a sailor. The two land in England and go their separate ways.

Sweeney enters the bake shop of Mrs. Lovett (Christina Hall), famous for her horrible-tasting meat pies and a woman who remembers Sweeney from his former life. She provides space on her second floor to allow Sweeney to open his tonsorial parlor once again.

But it is more than cutting hair that drives Sweeney. Lucy has died, Mrs. Lovett tells him, and that his lovely daughter Johanna (Kelly Britt) has been taken in by Turpin. The judge keeps her a veritable prisoner while he turns his seduction to his ward, as sickening a development as you could see. 

For Sweeney it is a tale of horror and he plots his revenge carefully and savagely and begins by practicing on several unsuspecting customers. His chosen method is a simple one. Slather a face with shaving cream, honing his straight edge razor to a weapon he calls “my friend” and then slicing the throat of his customer. Once sliced, complete with spurting and flowing blood, the victim is dropped through a hole in the floor into a cavernous landing spot, only to be pulled away by Mrs. Lovett.

In a grim twist Mrs. Lovett runs the bodies through the grinder three times, uses the resulting grind as the filler for her meat pies, and enjoys a resurgence of her business as customers rave about the new flavor of her pies.

The shock and horror of these moments are somewhat minimized by the uneasy tenderness of the love of Anthony for Johanna. But even that tale finds itself in the midst of an asylum into which Johanna has been imprisoned.

If all of this sounds a bit grisly, it is. Mr. Sondheim and Huge Wheeler who wrote the book, created a piece that was about the revenge of a vengeful person. And they spared nothing in the telling of the tale.

The score is one of the most complex in the body of musical theater works. Only a fourth of the show is traditional dialogue and the rest is sung through. It demands well-trained and exercised voices and this cast is perfectly in tune with the score and the eight-piece orchestra under Makino’s direction.

They are led by the rich baritone of Mr. Varela who is a classic. Handsome and expressive he models a tortured fanatic with his rich and vivid baritone and the fierceness of a man consumed with hatred and an unshakable will to rescue his daughter.

Ms. Hall turns her Ms. Lovett into a scene stealing archetype of a woman who will stop at nothing to change her life. She harbors a crush on Sweeney and relishes the creation of her meat pies for cannibals. Ms. Hall, a mezzo, sings her character with a kind of vicious humor that draws you in just as it repels.

The two leads get vivid support from baritone Mr. Pastrana, soprano Ms. Britt, tenors Ryan Stajmiger and Robert A. Goderich and a spectacular Susan Spencer as the Beggar Woman who is both the conscience and the teaser of the show.

Ozawa has put together a creative team that was clearly up to the task for this prodiction.

The set of Charles Murdock Lucas is inventive and evocative. Two levels with moveable columns at both stage right and stage left, it functions as an evocative and splendidly versatile home for the action. The costumes of Jason Orlenko easily defined the Victorian period of London and Jason Fassl once again delivers a lighting experience that both serves and enhances the story.

Special mention must also go to Megan P. Henninger who created an almost wondrous litany of sound that left not a single moment missed by the audience. The range from tender to bitter was clear and careful under her guidance.

Skylight has had a successful season and the exclamation point of this year may well be this classic production about a crazy barber armed with a well-honed razor and a burning desire for vengance.

Cast: 9Skylight Music Theatre 2016-20 17 SeasonSweeney Todd – Andrew Varela; Mrs. Lovett – Christina Hall; Anthony Hope – Lucas Pastrana; Johanna – Kelly Britt; Tobias Ragg – Ryan Stajmiger – Judge Turpin – Randall Dodge; The Beadle – Ben Tajnai; Beggar Woman – Susan Spencer’ Adolfo Pirelli – Robert A. Goderich; Jonas Fogg – Rick Pendzich;  Ensemble – Doug Clemons, Lydia Rose Eiche, Carrie Gray, Amara Haaksman, Allison Hull, Samantha Sostarich, Brett Sweeney, Dan Tellez, Matt Zeman.

Production credits: Stage Director –  Matthew Ozawa; Music Director – Ben Makino; Scenic Director – Charles Murdock  Lucas; CCostume Designer – Jason Orlenko; Lighting Designer – Jason Fassl; Sound Designer – Megan B. Henninger; Choreographer – Ryan Cappleman; Assistant Director – Colleen BrooksAssistant Music Director –  Anne Van Deusen; Assistant Lighting Designer – Marisa Abbott; Dialect Coach – Raeleen McMillion;  Dialect Assistant –  Rick Pendzich; Production Stage Manager – Daniel J. Hanson; Photographer – Mark Frohna.

About davebegel@gmail.com

Theater Critic in Milwaukee.
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One Response to Sweeney Todd at Skylight

  1. Parker Cristan says:

    Excellent review! Thanks Dave and Congrats to the Skylight!!!

    Like

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