What would cause a barber named Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, and a restaurateur named Mrs. Lovett to go bloody mad in modern day East London? Was Sweeney Todd born a demon or did society influence his barbarous behavior?
Rep Stage’s edgy production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by High Wheeler, twists the knife, digging deep into the heart and soul, and dare I say “meat” of the characters.
Director, choreographer, and set designer Joseph W. Ritsch sets the play in modern day East London, complete with two black steel staircases that lead to a balcony, black brick walls, a telephone booth, atmospheric fog, and a variety of large posters and signs, including one that reads “Turpin: Make London Great Again.”
“Turpin” on the sign refers to Judge Turpin, (Nigel Reed) a corrupt and unsavory judge who becomes infatuated with Lucy Barker, and later with her daughter Johanna (a vocally soaring Suzanne Lane). Turpin’s right hand man, The Beadle (Benjamin Lurye), dressed in black leather, is quick to use his baton to keep the townspeople under control, especially Anthony Hope (Noah Israel) a young sailor who is in love with Judge Turpin’s ward.
Life isn’t easy in the streets of East London, especially for the doll holding, cart pushing Beggar Woman, performed with just the right blend of comedy and mystery by Justine Icy Moral. Adding a mustache, Justine Icy Moral then portrays with great flamboyance Adolfo Pierelli, an Irish charlatan who poses as an Italian barber.
V. Savoy McIIwain is boiling over with anger, pain, and hurt in his role as Sweeney Todd, a barber who has an axe to grind with the Judge who took away his freedom and the people who he loves most. What I like best about his performance is his deep, commanding singing voice. Songs like “My Friends,” about his love affair with shaving blades, and “Epiphany,” about how everyone in town deserves to die, will leave you spellbound, frightened, and even sorry for his plight.
Jade Jones as Mrs. Lovett is a joy to watch, whether trying to seduce Sweeney Todd or interacting with Tobias Ragg (Played with sensitivity by John Taos Foster), a young simpleton who works in her pie shop. Jade Jones brings out the twisted humor in Sondheim’s lyrics with aplomb including “Worst Pies in London” and “A Little Priest.”
Adding to the proceedings is the 3 piece orchestra led by musical director Stacey Antoine on the reeds, Ben Shaver on the piano, and Raphael Erfe on the violin.
Overall, I recommend Rep Stage’s production of “Sweeney Todd” because of director Joseph W. Ritsch‘s edgy vision, the terrific singing voices from the ensemble, and Sondheim’s master score.
Running Time: 3 hours, with intermission.
Advisory: Mild profanity. Adult themes and violence.
“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.