Sweeney Todd Theatre Review - The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street Exacts His Vengance at Musical Theatre West

"Sweeney Todd" is currently running at Musical Theatre West in Long Beach until February 14, 2010

If revenge is a dish best served cold, no one bothered to tell the grieve-incensed barber, Sweeney Todd ( Norman Large), who has newly escaped from prison for the crime of having a beautiful wife and daughter. With the aid of a kind French sailor, Anthony Hope ( Dan Callaway), Sweeney has returned to find the family he was ripped from fifteen years earlier by the arrogant Judge Turpin ( Richard Gould). While prison hardened him, he found sustenance in the solitary hope of being reunited with his loved ones.

Debbie Prutsman and Norman Large in "Sweeney Todd" @ Musical Theatre West. Long Beach

                                                   Sweeney returns to a poverty-stricken quarter of London that he once called home, to find a new merchant on Fleet Street. Mrs. Nellie Lovett ( Debbie Prutsman), baker of meat pies, takes an instant liking to him. A colorful but clever woman, Mrs. Lovett also immediately recognized Sweeney as the wronged barber whose shaving tools she has been saving… just because. In the number “The Worst Pies in London”, she shares that business has been less than grand these days; a fact which may or may not be directly related to the actual amount of meat in her pies.

Lovett goes on to break the bad news of what became of Sweeney’s Wife; how the Judge pursued her, how she rejected him utterly, and how she sought refuge from her shame and guilt in a bottle of arsenic. Lovett tells Todd that his daughter is now the ward of the dreaded Judge. Together they scheme to lure the Judge into Todd’s shop for a shave, where he shall exact his rightful revenge.

Meanwhile, across town, Anthony spies the young golden haired beauty, Johanna ( Sarah Bermudez), during her song to the “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” and is instantly smitten. Anthony seeks out help from Todd, unwittingly conspiring the rescue that the Barber had hoped to achieve for his daughter.

Sarah Bermundez & Dan Callaway in "Sweeney Todd" @ Musical Theatre West. Long Beach

Adolfo Pirelli ( Alan M-L Wager), Todd’s only short-lived competition for the London’s finest barber, is the first ill-fated soul to find his way into Todd’s chair, and into Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies. Mrs. Lovett effortlessly wins the heart of Pirelli’s dim-witted assistant Tobias ( Jim Holdridge). And all the while, the town Beggar Woman ( Michelle Duffy), who is thought to be quite mad, sees and smells the evil emanating from the shops on Fleet Street.

Sweeney Todd is the most popular of the surviving penny operas of London circa 1840. While the original tale has evolved to make our anti-hero sympathetic, Sweeney Todd continues to be a favorite tragedy among musical theater goers. The musical blends a haunting score with the passion of insanity sparked by the endurance of unthinkable injustice and emotional suffering. Sweeney Todd is the murderer we rooted for before there was a Hannibal Lecter.

Michelle Duffy in "Sweeney Todd" @ Musical Theatre West. Long Beach

I have seen this show more than a few times and I have to say I thoroughly enjoy this production. Norman Large comfortably heads a formidable company of talented performers that are both vocally and dramatically strong. Debbie Prutsman was for me, the greatest treat of the show. Her twisted turn as the Machiavellian merchant / love-sick lunatic Mrs. Lovett was a delight and engaging from the moment she steps on stage. Jim Holdridge imbues the character of Tobias with a wonderful naivety and Michelle Duffy’s Beggar Woman is the epitome of despair incarnate. The sheer elegance of sound – from soloists to the collective to the pit – was simply excellent. It seems a strange word to use for a musical of this morbid tone – elegance. However, it is the best word to describe the quality of composition in the awesome wall of sound generated by this company and orchestra.

Have "A Little Priest"

It is so nice to be completely immersed by a musical experience as this production of Sweeney Todd does so brilliantly. Director Calvin Remsberg formal treatment of story both suits and embellishes the tragic tale of the Demon Barber. Remsberg also takes equal care with the show's humor and tender moments, a percarious tightrope to traverse in such a sweeping tragedy as this. Well Done. I also found the set design of this production really impressive. Tiered flats flew in and rolled out, travelling on and off stage with ease, effortlessly transporting the story from scene to scene, from town square to slum. The set's versatility allowed the story to fill the entire stage.

It has been a while since I have seen a production that is as successful in execution, as it is elaborate and ambitious.

While Sweeney Todd is not exactly a musical for the whole family, this timeless tale of a wronged man’s madness and revenge could not be in better hands than at Musical Theatre West.

Sweeney Todd runs not through February 14, 2010 at:

Musical Theatre West
@ the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
6200 Atherton Street (CSULB campus)
Long Beach, CA 90815

Tickets: (562) 856-1999 ext. 4


Photos by: Alysa Brennan

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