Review: ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ by Sterling Playmakers

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Sterling Playmakers and produced by Shanna Christian, is an intense musical experience with just enough blood, murder, mischief, and mayhem to please even the most diehard of horror fans, and enough music and comedy for everyone else!

Dave Joria as Sweeney Todd and Elizabeth Drake as Mrs. Lovett in Sterling Playmakers' production of Sweeney Todd. Photo courtesy of Sterling Playmakers.
Dave Joria as Sweeney Todd and Elizabeth Drake as Mrs. Lovett in Sterling Playmakers’ production of Sweeney Todd. Photo courtesy of Sterling Playmakers.

Much of the musical’s conceit is explained during the first song, “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” Sweeney Todd (Dave Joria) is a barber who kills his clients. Sweeney joins with Mrs. Lovett (Elizabeth Drake) to cover up the killing spree by baking victims into meat pies.

Directed by Megan Stockman and assistant directed by Zora Grace, the pacing never lets up, and the thoughtful blocking made great use of the stage. The vocal director, Mike Stockman, pulls the best out of the cast and also serves as conductor off-stage, ensuring that everyone keeps on Stephen Sondheim’s sometimes incredibly difficult beat.

Sweeney Todd is the role Joria was born to play. He plays Sweeney Todd as flawed and vengeful to his enemies. At the same time, Joria’s Sweeney is also softer and kinder to Mrs. Lovett. His line delivery is sharp and perfectly timed. Joria commands attention, especially while singing. His song, “My Friends” will send shivers down your spine.

Drake and Joria work together like a well-oiled machine. Drake brings much-needed comedy to what might otherwise be a very heavy musical. Drake’s performance rivals any professional Mrs. Lovett. She is marvelous at singing, incredible at acting, all while never dropping her well-polished accent. “The Worst Pies In London” showcases Drake’s superb voice and acting while Joria puts his incomparable physical acting to work. The two make a great pair.

Beggar Woman (Sara Watson) was creepily engaging in every scene. Watson’s physicality was spot-on and added depths to the character. It is sometimes difficult for people to sing “in character” when the character is unhinged, but Watson rises to the occasion, making the Beggar Woman’s character arc even more shocking.

Anthony Hope (Elliott Frye) and Johanna (Roan McLean) pair well as the two lovers of the musical. McLean’s voice is bright and clear: perfect for her song “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.” Frye has a winning smile and, particularly when paired with McLean, oozes sincerity.

Elliott Frye as Anthony Hope and Roan McLean as Johanna in Sterling Playmakers' production of Sweeney Todd. Photo courtesy of Sterling Playmakers.
Elliott Frye as Anthony Hope and Roan McLean as Johanna in Sterling Playmakers’ production of Sweeney Todd. Photo courtesy of Sterling Playmakers.

Adolfo Pirelli (Robyn Stafford) is a real treat as a swindling charlatan. Stafford and Holly Tupper (who plays Tobias Ragg) do a very entertaining job of playing up the ridiculousness of the grift in “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” and “Pirelli’s Entrance,” respectively. Later, Tupper’s song with Drake, “Not While I’m Around” is a nice, sweet change of pace with some heartfelt moments.

As the antagonists in a play of villains, Judge Turpin (Joe Christian) and The Beadle (Jim Collinson) embrace the darkness of their characters completely. Christian also doubles as one of the musical’s two technical directors (Meg Roosma is the other). Wearing both hats could have meant that either the characterization suffered or the set; however, both Christian’s acting and singing and the set are excellent. Collinson’s Beadle is hilarious and gruesome at the same time. It is easy to see Beadle as buffoonish, but Collinson’s nuanced performance truly heightens the character.

The ensemble of this all-star cast (Matt Beasley, Julia Braxton, Carolyn Fox Darville, Mari Davis, Trish Grace, Cristin Moor, Alecia Nault, Bob Rosenberg, Kareem Taylor, and Xandr Weaver) play several roles and serve almost as a Greek Chorus. They added individual personalities and their background interactions are excellent throughout the musical, but best in “God, That’s Good.” A major standout in the ensemble is Xandr Weaver as Jonas Fogg, the owner of Fogg’s Asylum. Weaver takes a very small role and makes it very memorable with a smooth and powerful voice that made me feel downright queasy.

Listen to the lyrics and “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd!”

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, presented by Sterling Playmakers, plays through November 18, 2018, at Seneca Ridge Middle School, 98 Seneca Ridge Drive, Sterling, VA. Tickets are available at the door or online.

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