Skylight Music Theatre's Sharp Take on 'Sweeney Todd'
Few musicals in the repertory have gained the respect among theater and music lovers as has Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Fans of this landmark masterpiece―as well as anyone who wants an accomplished evening of theater―should make it to Skylight Music Theatre’s production, which opened last Friday evening and plays through June 11.
This musical horror story is of a London barber sentenced to an Australian prison on a trumped-up charge by Judge Turpin, who coveted the barber’s wife and took his daughter. The barber, now calling himself Sweeney Todd, escapes and returns to London, determined to murder the Judge in revenge.
Matthew Ozawa’s intelligent direction satisfyingly brings to life the many sharply drawn characters. Charles Murdock Lucas’ inventive set design uses three bi-level pieces, looking like rusting white metal, moved in various positions to create a fluid stream of scenes. Jason Fassl’s lighting design and Jason Orlenko’s costumes significantly add to the strength of the production.
Though I have seen scarier Todds, Andrew Varela carries off the title role with some style. His voice doesn’t have the low vocal range the role requires. Christina Hall’s masterful account of the rich role of Mrs. Lovett is multi-dimensional, crafted with shading and detail. She is a terrific singing actress. Randall Dodge’s elegant manner and handsome voice combined with his leering lust make him an ideal Judge Turpin.
Lucas Pastrana’s Anthony is played with fresh energy; his colorful singing voice gives this male ingénue character a little more presence than I’ve seen in other productions. Ryan Stajmiger is a vivid Toby. The crazy, observant Beggar Woman is a minor but showy role, played deliciously by Susan Spencer. The rest of the cast, as well as the ensemble, are up to the excellent level of the performance.
Sweeney Todd is very challenging musically and vocally. I’ve seen/heard productions that didn’t meet those challenges. This one does. Ben Makino’s music direction lifts the standard of the performance to a high level, which will fulfill the expectations of anyone who loves this score.
Skylight’s Sweeney Todd is performed at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets, call 414-291-7800 or visit skylightmusictheatre.org.