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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

a Musical
by Hugh Wheeler (book) & Stephen Sondheim (songs)

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4842

SHOWING : January 23, 2016 - February 28, 2016



A wronged barber escapes from prison, returning to his native London to exact revenge on the corrupt judge who unjustly imprisoned him and stole his wife and child. When he joins forces with the lonely piemaker Mrs. Lovett, he sets into motion a tale of lust, murder, revenge and some really twisted meat pie recipes. Sondheim’s electrifying masterpiece explodes off the AE stage with raw power and some of the best singing you’ll hear in Atlanta all year.

Director Freddie Ashley
Ensemble Jennifer Acker
Mrs. Lovett Deborah Bowman
Fogg/Ensemble Daniel Burns
Anthony Benjamin Davis
Beggar Woman Jessica De Maria
Sweeney Todd Kevin Harry
Tobias Joseph Masson
Ensemble Kelly Monahan
Beadle Bamford Glenn Rainey
Johanna Kelly Schmidt
Judge Turpin Michael Strauss
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by playgoer
Friday, January 29, 2016
One thing can be said about "Sweeney Todd" at Actor’s Express – there’s not a good seat in the house. Shannon Robert’s set splits the audience in half and uses lofty platforms at either end of the playing space, so any action occurring at floor level around the platforms will be obscured or hidden to some audience members. Add in railings and tableaux of two actors in close proximity to one another, and you have the possibility of a lot of blocked views.

The set itself is fairly attractive, with nice wood effects for the floors and a variety of window types. The platform dedicated to Sweeney’s barber shop has a door for exits, but the other platform does not. It’s awkward for scenes at Judge Turpin’s to end with the actors trying unobtrusively to exit the platform in full sight of the audience, in the afterglow of Joseph P. Monaghan III’s lighting as it shifts focus to another section of the stage. It all depends on where one sits, of course, as to how obtrusive the exits are.

Sweeney’s barber shop nicely accommodates a special chair and trap door. Elisabeth Cooper’s props provide minimal, but functional furnishings for the barber shop and pie shop. There’s no blood in this production (if one discounts the red lighting occasionally used), but the blood isn’t missed. The menacing atmosphere and razor slashes provide all the effect needed.

Erik Teague’s costumes are generally somber in color, and in style are what one might term "greasepunk" – a cross between steampunk and 1950’s fashions. The most obvious 1950’s influences make a couple of ensemble members seem like demented refugees from "Bye Bye Birdie." I found the effect very off-putting.

There is nothing one would really term "dancing" in the show. Nevertheless, Freddie Ashley and/or choreographer Bubba Carr have created some very nice ensemble movement that gives a choreographic feel to certain segments, particularly the memory scenes with Lucy (Benjamin Barker’s wife, before Barker took on the alias of "Sweeney Todd"). The director has blocked the show to minimize the sightline deficiencies of the set design, but the deficiencies are too evident not to be noticed.

Music director Alli Lingenfelter gets good vocal performances out of all the cast, and sound designer Angie Bryant does a thoroughly acceptable job of balancing vocals and the orchestra. Even so, Sondheim’s score is so dense and word-heavy, often with multiple vocal lines and lyrics competing with one another, that it’s inevitable that some lines will be lost in the shuffle. The adult principals generally have very good diction, with particular kudos to soprano Kelly Chapin Martin.

Performances are all acceptable, although no one blew me away. Deborah Bowman is a very good actress as Mrs. Lovett, but she plays against the Sweeney Todd of Kevin Harry, who lets his magnificent voice do most of the work of creating a performance, with very little nuance in his brooding, menacing look. He has a couple of comic moments that work well, but do not seem integrated into his performance. Ms. Bowman has lots of comic moments, but they all arise from character and direction rather than from an inborn comedic sensibility.

I liked Ms. Martin’s work as Johanna, but Jessica de Maria’s performance as the beggar woman did nothing for me. Glenn Rainey is perfectly suited to the role of Beadle Bamford; I only wish I had been able to see more of his facial expressions that cracked up the other half of the audience. Stuart Schleuse impresses as Pirelli, and Michael Strauss looks great as Judge Turpin, but his voice, while quite fine, doesn’t have a quality to equal that of Mr. Harry in their duet of "Pretty Women."

In this production, the role of Tobias is taken by a child (Joseph Masson). I prefer a damaged young man in the role, who can provide more nuance in the difficult acting challenges of the character. Nuance is what the production lacks. Ms. Martin and Ms. Bowman have plenty, but others in the cast seem to have little or none. The audience is bludgeoned with the menacing mood of the show, which provides effect, but insufficient heart.

Of course, the true horror of attending this production at Actor’s Express might come when trying to exit the parking garage, with its highly temperamental devices that seem all too often to require manual intervention from an eventually arriving box office representative. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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