Porchlight’s “Sweeney Todd” Review – Charmed and Cozy with a Ghoulish Tale

 

Porchlight Music Theatre, whose slogan is “Celebrating 20 years of American Musicals, Chicago Style”, sure seems to know the advantage it has over big Broadway productions and moviemakers alike. 

 

 

In the relatively small 773 Stage theater space we are compelled to cozy up to the mythic evil character of Sweeney Todd (played powerfully by David Girolmo) when he seems to have a light bulb go off in his head telling him that becoming a serial killer may his best path to revenge.  

 

 

True, a film can capture that close-up, but cinema isn’t made to also let you hear the breath and timbre of strong voices singing “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” pouring in from all corners onto the stage.   When those voices rise in this intimate theater space we are quickly immersed in the seedier surrounds of Victorian London and the ghoulish tale that Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sweeney Todd” tells.

 

 

In Porchlight’s hands Sondheim’s music is first and foremost entertaining.  Ghoulish though the tale may be, we also get beautiful love ballads like “I Feel You Johanna” sung ever so sweetly by Brian Acker as Anthony Hope and “Kiss Me”, a duet by Acker and sparkling soprano Stephanie Stockstill

 

 

Expect some evanescent moments of disorientation when we step outside the bubble of the play to reflect on what we are watching—a tale of murder and cannibalism gone wild.  It’s during those moments that your stomach might do a slight somersault, until Porchlight’s cast masterfully pulls you back in to the action.

 

Rebecca Finnegan as Nellie Lovett best personifies the conundrum of how we supposedly civilized folk could find so much charm in monstrosity.  

 

 

Should we really be so disarmed a woman singing “Have a Little Priest” as she coquettishly introduces the idea of recycling Sweeney Todd’s victims into meat pie filling? 

 

 

Finnegan is so magnetic and enchanting that we really need that step back for an instant or so to get our reality bearings that cannibalism and murder aren’t just a whimsical joy ride.  Then again, her eyes sparkle so--- aren’t we groomed by Sondheim’s lyrics, Hugh Wheeler’s book and Rebecca Finnegan’s perfect interpretation to just love her?

 

 

This production is also an early warning system of the great talent coming of age in Oak Park high schooler Miles Blim who plays Nellie Lovett’s adoring assistant Tobias Ragg. 

 

 

He not only has a beautiful voice, but never falls into the trap of overacting scenes like finding fingernails in the sausages he’s making, something its easy to imagine a lesser actor could easily do.

 

Star power notwithstanding, Michael Weber’s direction of the entire strong-voiced ensemble makes some of the most memorable moments in this production ones where the singing chorus takes over the stage.  The scene of unwitting patrons consuming human meat pies with gusto engraves in our brain like a William Hogarth comic strip from that period warning of the excesses of gin.  

 

Halloween doesn’t need to be in the air to see this Porchlight production—but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

 

Run extended through November 16.

 

Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago

 

For tickets visit the Porchlight Music Theatre website or call 773 777 9884. 

 

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Photos:  Brandon Dahlquist

 

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