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Sweeney Todd

Review of Sweeney Todd

Corn Stock Winter Playhouse
By Douglas Okey

A Halloween-ready treat awaits patrons of Corn Stock Winter Playhouse in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, directed by Nate Downs.  Fans of Hollywood will remember Tim Burton’s middling 2007 film adaptation that paid necessary homage to the cult of Johnny Depp.  Take heed: in Corn Stock’s production, musicality and tragedy trump celebrity and personality, in spades. 

Sweeney Todd (Bob Parkhurst), a barber in Victorian London, slits the throats of men in his chair; Mrs. Lovett (Cheri Beever) bakes the unfortunates into meat pies in her shop below.  (Ah, musicals: ever the same story.)  Turns out that Todd is really Benjamin Barker, whose life collapsed years before our story when the corrupt Judge Turpin (George Maxedon) took a shine to Benjamin’s wife, Lucy (Laura Johnson). 

Benjamin was unjustly transported to an Australian prison colony.  He escapes and returns to London with the help of a sympathetic sailor, Anthony (Jake Hazzard), to discover what happened to Lucy and their daughter, Johanna (Melissa Blain) and vowing to take revenge on Judge Turpin. 

Anyone familiar with Burton’s film may remember the surprisingly small performances by Depp as Sweeney and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett.  What a pleasure to witness the incomparable local veteran Beever in a role that, after all, was originated by powerhouse performer Angela Lansbury.  Beever’s robust performance as Mrs. Lovett restores one’s faith in the capacity of Sondheim’s music to transport and transcend. 

The entire cast and ensemble successfully inhabit Sondheim’s difficult score with its contrapuntal harmonies, syncopated rhythms, and frequent discord.  Blain’s soaring, angelic soprano marks Johanna as above the world of Turpin and Todd, while Jarod Hazzard, in a comic turn as rival barber Pirelli, threatens to steal every scene he’s in with his stunningly energetic tenor and over-the-top Italian accent.  Other highlights are the grotesquely comic number “A Little Priest” that closes Act One and the transcendent reprise of “Johanna” that makes the most of Parkhurst’s and Jake Hazzard’s voices. 

Hugh Wheeler’s adaptation of Bond’s story emphasizes the tragedy of Sweeney’s tale.  Sweeney’s bloodthirst springs from his desire to take vengeance on the twisted Turpin, and Parkhurst’s haunted visage projects at every moment this singleness of mind and purpose, which he wreaks on the whole of London. 

This is a dark story, and Downs’ crew rises to the inky task with moody lighting by DJ Lucas and Megan Larke and appropriately disturbing hair and makeup designs by Amy Williams.  The cast and ensemble performers uniformly adopt expressions and postures that augment the show’s creepy atmosphere.  Particularly effective are the bald pate and sunken eyes of Beadle Bamford, in an unnerving portrayal by Dave Montague. 

Quibbles are few: a perplexing decision to pantomime most props is distracting; a game but too-old Caleb Finley is unfortunately miscast as young Tobias; an onstage lighting instrument threatens to blind theatregoers seated at just the wrong spot in the house.  Ultimately, no matter.  Corn Stock’s production reminds us what serious musical theatre can achieve. 

Editor's Note:  Sweeney Todd continues at the Corn Stock Winter Playhouse (located at the Corn Stock Theatre Center in Bradley Park) on Thursday, October 28, Friday, October 29 & Saturday, October 30 at 7:30 PM; $15 for adults; $10 for students (18 and younger, or with a valid college ID)

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