Guest Review by Russell Hathaway:
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I loved it! I have to admit, I love this show and would probably love a production of it if it was put on by an elementary school. But ArtsWest’s production was lovable, even if you’re not necessarily a devotee of the show.
The story of an exiled man running from the loss of his past and finding a dark, unlikely partnership with a pie maker, and the revenge they seek on the classes who have left them broken in the shadows, is familiar to all who have seen Sweeney Todd on stage or film. But ArtsWest and directors Mathew Wright and Eric Ankrim present an innovative production where the age, race, gender, even dress of the characters are not necessarily what they appear to be. It makes every character more than just what you see in front of you and makes you think about the story differently. Yes, this is a classic tragic story of revenge. But it’s also a timeless tale of power and powerlessness, mainstream and marginalized. And the cast tells—and sings—the story with gusto!
For a small, neighborhood theater, this production has a cast worthy of a Broadway touring company. Ben Gonio (NBC’s Grimm, As Boundless as the Green Earth) is dark and brooding, but he brings power (in presence and voice) to Todd that’s moving, whether in his disgust for the world around him (“No Place Like London”) or his anguish over lost love (“Pretty Women”). Jeff Church (5th Avenue Theatre, Village Theatre, ArtsWest) is perfectly cast as Judge Turpin, holding power over their village, sanctimonious, but more corrupt than those he judges. John Han (Seattle Musical Theatre, ArtsWest) as Toby, is soft and gentle and naive, but honest and morally consistent. All the actors work well together and bring depth to their characters and strong voices to the music.
Mrs. Lovett, played by Corinna Lapid Munter (5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre)— Wow! The strength of her voice! The nervous giggling! The dark devotion to Sweeney and Toby—this is her show! It’s her longing for someone to care for and her need to be needed that makes her fast infatuation with Sweeney and her fostering of Toby understandable. She can steal the show, singing “Not While I’m Around” with such tenderness and warmth, while offering up her cannibal concoctions.
It’s a wonderful, ambitious production, innovative in it’s staging and top notch in its casting. I probably enjoyed this story more told by this small company than a technicolor, surround-sound motion picture. If all the talk about pies leaves you hungry, they have a nice selection at the concessions counter. Enjoy!
Sweeney Todd plays ArtsWest now through July 1.
Photos by John McLellan