Produced by: San Jose Stage Company
Directed by: Kenneth Kelleher
Music direction by: Katie Coleman
Featuring: Noel Escobar, Sam Faustine, Monique Hafen, Reg Houston, Ric Iverson, Jill Miller, Keith Pinto, Allison F. Rich, Branden Noel Thomas, Christopher Vettel
When: February 7 through March 18, 2018
Where: 490 South 1st Street, San Jose
Tickets: $30-$65. Call 408-283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org.
production of 'Sweeney Todd'
extraordinary show through March 18, 2018
What's your favorite kind of show? Drama? Comedy? Tragedy? Love story? Thriller? Musical? The great thing about "Sweeney Todd" is that it has all the above, and San Jose Stage Company has put on a production to rival anything we would see on Broadway.
With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, "Sweeney Todd" has a number of story lines running through it, which all converge into a tasty meal at the end, not unlike one of Mrs. Lovett's famous meat pies. Highs and lows, a touching love story, the dirty underbelly of London town in the 1800s, injustice and revenge. And, oh yes, the murders and the cannibalism.
The 1979 production of "Sweeney Todd: the demon Barber of Fleet Street," won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. In its many revivals, Sweeney Todd has been played by, among others, Johnny Depp and Kelsey Grammar, and Mrs. Lovett by leading actresses such as Angela Lansbury and Emma Thompson. The underlying theme of the play is injustice and revenge, but it is served up with a light pastry topping of great songs, good laughs and subtle innuendos, plus the aforementioned murders and cannibalism.
At San Jose Stage, Sweeney Todd, played by Noel Anthony, arrives back from 15 years in an Australian labor camp, where he has been sent after being convicted on a trumped-up charge by Judge Turpin (an authoritative Christopher Vettel). He is determined to get his revenge on the judge and the beadle (Brandon Noel Thomas). Sweeney used to be a barber on Fleet Street and when he meets Mrs. Lovett at her pie shop in the very same Fleet Street, where she sells "the worst pies in London," she returns his shaving implements to him. Taking out the straight razor (also, by the way, known as a "cut-throat razor") he exclaims, "my arm is complete again."
Anthony plays Sweeney as a man with a mission — revenge — and it is always uppermost in his mind. He has an excellent singing voice, which he uses to good effect, especially in the duet "Pretty Women" with Judge Turpin. When a competing barber, Adolfo Pirelli (beautifully hammed up with a fake Italian accent by Ric Iverson), tries to blackmail him, Todd cuts his throat.
Director Kenneth Kelleher shows us every time a throat is cut (and there are many!) by bathing the stage in red light, with one of the actors pouring red blood into a pail.
Sweeney, Turpin, the Beadle are all well-played and sung (Thomas as the Beadle has an exceptional range from tenor into high falsetto), but it is Alison F. Rich's Mrs. Lovett that steals the show. It is her idea to improve the taste of the meat pies by mincing up the dead bodies that Sweeney conveniently provides her from his shaving chair. But Rich's acting, singing, and comedic touches are a joy, as in the song "A Little Priest." Sondheim's lyrics and rhymes are hilarious as Lovett and Sweeney discuss the various flavors of pie they could make, depending on what, or who, went into it. It's a bit of a tongue-twister, but both Rich and Anthony pull it off with what seems like ease.
Tobias Ragg, the simple-minded Toby, is played by the wonderful Keith Pinto, who gives us some musical narration and also adds a little comic relief as he gradually discovers what is actually happening in the bake-house.
We mentioned a love story at the beginning. A shipmate of Sweeney's, Anthony Hope, played by Sam Faustine, happens upon a young girl singing to her caged bird. The girl turns out to be Johanna, Sweeney's daughter, who is being looked after by Judge Turpin as his ward. Johanna is played by Monique Hafen, who has a soaring soprano voice and her vocal quality is matched only by Sam Faustine's as Hope, her young suitor. Sweeney is not happy about either the old judge or the young sailor having feelings for his daughter, and the storyline gets more complex. The murder rate increases as we hurtle towards the end. Sweeney gets his revenge but is himself dispatched, as is Mrs Lovett, leaving just the simple-minded Toby to run the pie shop.
Michael Palumbo's set design is simple but evocative. A few crates here and there, a cage, some scaffolding. San Jose Stage is an intimate theater, so the audience can really feel part of the action. "Sweeney Todd" is a complex piece to put on, Executive Director Cathleen King told me. Many interweaving story lines and multi-part songs. The company had tried to stage the whole play with just area mics, but only days before opening they had to abandon the idea and mic individually.
Mrs. Lovett says the great taste of her pies comes from a family secret, "something to do with herbs," she says. But don't keep this production to yourself. It's wonderfully tasty and deserves to be shared with all your friends.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org