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Posted on Fri, Jun 8, 2012 : 1:35 a.m.

Dark "Sweeney Todd' one of Ann Arbor Civic's best

By Roger LeLievre


Richard Knapp as "Sweeney Todd"

Photo by Charlotte Morrelli

In the past I have been critical of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre musicals, feeling that the group’s reach sometimes exceeded its grasp.

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.



Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Saw this yesterday afternoon--it was magnificent. Richard Knapp and Trisha Fountain knocked it out of the ballpark. I really hope to see their talent in more local productions.


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 10:50 a.m.

I don't care for plays much....but so so enjoyed this! It was lively, beautiful...well synced. Everyone involved did an amazing job! Thank you!

Michael Szymanski

Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 2:14 a.m.

Fabulous production with outstanding vocals as noted above. However, the use of video monitors, as pointed out by the reviewer, was distracting and added nothing that helped tell the story that's so well told in the lyrics. Unlike the reviewer, I was disappointed in the portrayal of Judge Turpin by Mr. Potter. While his voice was in tune, at times he was out of tempo and his enunciation was mushy when singing. He lacked the physical prowess and intimidating persona I would expect in this role. His costume was much too baggy, suggesting a decline of a former physique. Unbelievable that he would pass as his wards father... more like a grandfather or greatgrandfather. And did you miss his awkward departure from the barber's chair when his throat was slit. Lastly, I was not pleased with a Joanna who was not a blonde. It required a change of Sondheim's fabulous lyrics when it came time to rescue her from the madhouse.

Leslie Cypert

Fri, Jun 8, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

Saw the show. The costumes and the directing were excellent. Rachel is amazing. Nan Wirth and her staff are amazing. Beautiful show to watch.

Ed Kimball

Fri, Jun 8, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

I'm glad A2CT did such a good job. Their presentation of the same show back in the 80s was also excellent-- nearly as good as the Broadway production -- and with no distracting monitors. I'm embarrassed to say that there's a little part of me that wishes Christopher Potter had not gotten such a good review. IIRC, he was not generous with positive reviews back when he was critic for the News.

Some Guy in 734

Fri, Jun 8, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

To the best of my knowledge, A2CT never mounted a production of Sweeney Todd in the 1980s. Judy Dow directed a production there, with considerable assistance from Jim Posante because her husband Bob Alexander was having health problems, so that would have placed it in 1992.