Dark "Sweeney Todd' one of Ann Arbor Civic's best
Photo by Charlotte Morrelli
Not this time.
Their production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” which opened Thursday night at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, is one of AACT’s best musical efforts to date.
Set in 19th century London, “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” focuses on a man who returns to town after being wrongly exiled. The evil judge responsible, who also ravaged Sweeney’s wife and now lusts for his daughter, is the target for Todd’s bitter revenge—he vows to even the score with the judge, and a few others as well. To this end, he slits the throats of unsuspecting customers who end up in his barber chair, while his neighbor, Mrs. Lovett, bakes the victims into tasty meat pies.
Yes, that sounds gory, and in the hands of some directors it can be. But this is a bloodless “Sweeney Todd,” so no need to get squeamish. Here, the emphasis is more on the dark elements of sexual tension, perversion, power and corruption the story provides.
The cast, directed by Rachel Francisco, navigated Sondheim’s often-challenging music with finesse, though the English accents and rapid-fire delivery meant lyrics were occasionally lost in the shuffle.
Richard Knapp, the barber of the title, did not overplay his role, but let his rage burn below the surface. He and Trisha Fountain (Mrs. Lovett) were a delight to watch, and their macabre “A Little Priest” proved a high point of the first act. Both are accomplished singers, and all and all seemed pretty sweet, for psychopaths.
When fresh-faced Matt Peckham (sailor/suitor Anthony) and Knapp sang together, it made a lovely contrast between bitter and sweet. Paul Clark (Tobias) gave a winning performance as well.
In addition to Knapp and Fountain, Robby Griswold as The Beadle and Christopher Potter as Judge Turpin excelled in their roles. Griswold clearly relished being the creepiest Beadle ever, with his haughty air and steampunk attire. The black eye patch was an especially nice touch. The deep-voiced Potter, a former theater writer for The Ann Arbor News, brought depth and a bit of dignity to his reprehensible character, especially in the tortured “Johanna.”
Which brings me to my only real problem with the show—three TV monitors built into the set. Not only were they not of the period, they competed with the actors for attention (poor Potter, pouring out his heart while the monitors distractingly played images, music-video style, of his beloved ward). Why are they even there? Pull the plug!
Otherwise, this “Sweeney Todd” showed just what can be accomplished in community theater with the right cast and crew. Anyone care for pie?
"Sweeney Todd" continues through Sunday. Full details here.