How does one describe the experience that you have watching the Great Lakes Theater production of Sweeney Todd now playing at the Hanna Theatre on PlayhouseSquare? “Phenomenal” comes to mind as does “Exceptional” but perhaps the most apt description is simply “Broadway Worthy”.
As in all great productions it is the sum of the parts that takes it to greatness. The set is foreboding and highly detailed with smooth transitions from the pie shop (with second floor barber shop) to the basement where the bodies are “processed”. There is also a clever device for delivering the bodies from the second floor to the cellar as the barber chair is swiveled, the back straightened and the hapless corpse slid down a ramp through a trap door in the floor for their last trip to destiny in the basement.
The costumes, makeup and accessories are period accurate giving all the players the gaunt look of denizens of London in the early 1800’s. The lighting sets the mood with a liberal mixture of reds and oranges. There is a pleasant surprise when the orchestra of eight musicians comes on stage for a bow and you realize that it sounded like a much larger ensemble playing. Even the facial expressions of wild eyes and crooked smiles of the entire cast lend a diabolical air to the work. Add to this the dark comedy that is sprinkled throughout and the haunting melodies of Stephen Sondheim and you have a sure fire hit that is destined for a sell-out.
Be forewarned, this portrayal of wanton revenge and murder is extremely graphic. Young children and those of a sensitive nature should avoid this production. In all there are eight throat cuttings (all graphically done with spurting blood), one live cremation and the subject of cannibalism.
You might well ask yourself with all this blood and gore why is this show so popular. It is in the quality of the actors. Not only are they convincing in their roles, they are also a group of extraordinarily good singers. Tom Ford is Sweeny Todd, a man wrongly imprisoned for fifteen years. He is told upon his escape from Australia that his wife committed suicide and his daughter is a ward of the man who sent him up. Ford plays the part with maniacal intensity. He is crazy, but smart crazy. His cohort in crime is Mrs. Lovett, the owner of a pie shop that sells “The Worst Pies In London” (played by Sara M. Bruner) who carries the weight of most of the comic relief and does it extremely well. Her timing is perfect and she was well rewarded with a slew of deep laughs.
M.A. Taylor as the Beadle (right hand man to the judge) is a nasty man who has a lighter and caring side but his meanness overshadows his virtue. Judge Turpin (played by Darren Matthias) is just plain rotten to the core. Part of the excitement is his survival to the very end. Special mention also goes to Mark G. Hawbecker for his over the top portrayal of Adolfo Firelli, Zach Adkins as Anthony Hope, Jodi Dominick as the Beggar Woman with a secret and Clare Howes Eisentrout as Johanna (Sweeny Todd’s daughter).
Prude Alert: First off, this is a “Bloody Good” musical, emphasis on the former. There is also repeated reference to various sexual acts that could easily offend those with sensitivities about such subject matter. It is a musical about graphic murder and cannibalism so those easily offended should give up their seat to someone with less emotional bends. There is no profanity in the entire performance.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): Great Lakes Theater’s production of Sweeny Todd is “Broadway Worthy” on so many levels. The combination of the exceptional sets, special effects, costuming, make-up, music, singing, comedy and acting makes you forget the grim nature of this tale and enjoy the show. It is truly “a cut above”.
Tickets are available by calling (216) 241-6000, by ordering online at: www.greatlakestheater.orgor by visiting the PlayhouseSquare Ticket Office. Groups of ten or more receive discounts of up to 40% by calling (216) 241-5490 x302.
Great Lakes Theater, the first resident company of PlayhouseSquare, has brought the pleasure, power and relevance of classic theater to the widest possible audience since 1962. GLT programming positively impacts 100,000 adults and students annually.
Great Lakes Theater’s award-winning home at the Hanna Theatre features a visionary“Great Room” inspired design that integrates the artist and audience experience into a single unified environment. Hanna patrons select from a variety of seating opportunities including traditional theater seats, club chairs, lounge/bar seats, banquette couches and private box seating. Arranged in an intimate 550-seat thrust configuration where the audience surrounds the stage, no seat is further than 12 rows from the performance.