Any way you slice it, Sweeney Todd’s a winner
2010-02-11 · By Barbara Holbrook
Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. He served a dark and a vengeful god.
What happens then – well, that’s the play, And he wouldn’t want us to give it away…
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has set up shop on the stage at the Carpenter Center and there’s only one weekend left to see the Musical Theatre West production.
The story of Sweeney Todd goes back so far that it’s difficult to tell whether there’s any truth underlying the urban legend. However, legends aside, it’s the Steven Sondheim adaption that truly gives the Demon Barber life, transforming Sweeney into a man that we can identify with, a man that has been wronged. At it’s heart, Sweeney Todd is a tragic love story.
Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 with Sondheim’s razor-sharp score and brilliant lyrics that are alternately gleeful and gruesome. Set in Victorian England, the thriller tells the tale of the skillful barber, Benjamin Barker (Norman Large), who had been wrongfully imprisoned by the malicious Judge Turpin because of the judge’s jealousy over Barker’s beautiful wife, Lucy. Barker, hoping to recapture his former life, returns to London with a new identity as Sweeney Todd.
He revisits his home after fifteen years in exile only to discover that the only remnant of his earlier life is the pie shop, owned by Mrs. Lovett (Debbie Prutsman), which still stands below his old barber shop. As the story unfolds, the vengeful Sweeney and conniving Mrs. Lovett, who has been secretly in love with Barker all of these years, develop an unusual partnership as they plod towards their own inevitable destinies. The Demon Barber of Fleet Street cooks up the hilarious scheme of revenge that is the foundation of this comedic and captivating thriller.
The entire cast of Sweeney is fabulous. The mood of dirty, downtown London is set immediately and the ensemble keeps the tone both urgent and dark with the reprising Ballad of Sweeney Todd.
Large and Prutsman are a match! As a wounded romantic, Large swings from tortured to maniacal with a swish of the razor and Prutsman is the perfect balance.
The pragmatic Mrs. Lovett complements Sweeney’s driven darkness, and breaks the musical’s tension with much-needed humor. Prutsman is an expert comedienne. Her timing and expressions strike the right note at just the right moment. She creates a character with Lovett that, while tragic, is not pitiful. Sweeney Todd is Prutsman’s Musical Theatre West Debut and I can’t wait to see more of this talented actress.
Another standout performance came from Jim Holdridge as the simpleton Tobias Ragg. His character is the innocent contrast to Sweeney’s evil, and Holdridge plays the role with a believable honesty that allows Tobias to be humorous without simply becoming the joke.
If you and your Valentine share a macabre streak and a sense of humor, then Sweeney Todd would be a great Valentine’s gift. And, if you’re just trying to forget about “that” day, let Sweeney remind you why love sucks. Just remember, the musical has adult themes and is not intended for all audiences.
Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach through Sunday, February 14. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets cost $30-$80.
For tickets, call the Musical Theatre West box office at (562) 856-1999 or go online to www.musical.org.
The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located on the Cal State Long Beach campus at 6200 Atherton Street, Long Beach, CA 90815.