Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street presented by Rep Stage, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by High Wheeler, took to the boards this week at Howard Community College.
Directed and choreographed by Joseph W. Ritsch, Sweeney Todd is a shadowy musical. The title character is full of justifiable anger and hate. The female lead is only interested in her own survival and manipulates events whenever she gets the chance. This is the antithesis of The Sound of Music. There is no bright side to this show, only despair.
This is production is different than the original Broadway creation. The set and costumes reflect a more modern London. The main characters, Sweeney Todd (V. Savoy McIlwain) and Mrs. Lovett (Jade Jones) are more morose and self-serving than other versions.
Both McIlwain and Jones have wonderful voices. They both dominate the stage when they are performing. Lovett’s plea to Sweeney to collect their riches and move “By the Sea” is a highlight of the show as is “A Little Priest,” their duet at the end of Act I.
Nigel Reed plays the very evil Judge Turpin. Reed captures the villainy of the character in this fine performance. The other scoundrel, simply known as The Beadle, is portrayed by Benjamin Lurye. He is perfectly menacing – a 19th century Hell’s Angel.
The love interests in the show, Johanna (Suzanne Lane) and Anthony Hope (Noah Israel), are charming and the two actors have magnificent voices. John Taos Foster, who is still in High School, plays the hapless Tobias Ragg. Foster is already proving he is a fine actor and has a great vocal range. He may be the hidden gem of this production.
Justine Icy Moral is the Beggar Woman, Pirelli, and Jonas Fogg. The standout for me is her rendition of Pirelli, the competing barber on Fleet Street in the musical number, “The Contest.” Except for McIlwain and Jones, all the actors play multiple roles and are a superior ensemble. They shine in “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir”.
The direction by Joseph W. Ritsch is provocative and thought-provoking. Ritsch sees the story in social and political terms. I am not sure I always saw the connection, but admire his need to tell the story from this point of view. Ritsch also designed the set. It was done with a modern touch to take “Victorian Fleet Street and smash it against the streets of modern East London.”
Sarah Cubbage’s costumes reflect both eras. Conor Mulligan’s lighting design is the epitome of gloom. Stacey Antoine is a gifted musical director who skillfully blends all the magnificent voices.
This professional production of Sweeney Todd is worth seeing. If this is your first view of the Sondheim musical, you are in for a visual treat. If you have previously seen it, this interpretation will add another dimension to your understanding.
Running Time: 3 hours, with an Intermission
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs through September 23, 2018, in the Studio Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College — 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 518-1500, or purchase them online.