Theater & Dance
Review
"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

By: Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler
Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: David Studwell as Sweeney Todd, Tory Ross as Mrs. Lovett, Spencer Kiely as Toby, Mindy Lym as Johanna, Mia Fryvecind Gimenez as Beggar Woman, Jack Mosbacher as Anthony, Martin Rojas Dietrich as Beadle, Noel Anthony as Pirelli, Lee Strawn as Judge Turpin, and an ensemble including Nik Duggan, Dominic Michael Lewis, Caitlin O’Leary, Nick Schmittzeh, Kelly Swartz, and Caroline Altman
Directed by: Robert Kelley
When: October 8 through November 2, 2014
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, California
Running time: 150 minutes; one intermission
Tickets: $19-$74 (discounts available). Visit theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960

Watch the sitzprobe for TheatreWorks's production of "Sweeney Todd."

Judge, Sweeney
Kevin Berne / TheatreWorks
Wow! We have to wonder what Lee Strawn, as The Judge, is smiling about as he gets a close shave from David Studwell as Sweeney Todd in Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd," playing at TheatreWorks October 8 through November 2, 2014, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
Fabulous musical theater
on the cutting edge
TheatreWorks advances 'Sweeney Todd'
to 1940 London, and it is a sharp improvement
October 14, 2014

Picture the scene: An air raid siren blares, and we open onto the London Underground in 1940, where Londoners take refuge from the Blitz.

"A nice respectable business," is how Mrs Lovett, played by Tory Ross, describes her "revitalized" pie shop in TheatreWorks’ gripping production of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

How she transformed the business from selling "the worst pies in London" is the grisly underlying thread of the story. Originally set in 19th century London, TheatreWorks Artistic Director Robert Kelley has re-imagined the story using the gritty backdrop of the London Blitz of 1940.

In Christopher Bond’s retelling of the original penny dreadful, Sweeney, played here masterfully by David Studwell, used to be a barber, until he was wrongly convicted of a crime by a corrupt judge and sent away to prison. On his return he vows revenge on the judge for the loss of his family and his livelihood. He meets Mrs Lovett at her struggling pub and pie shop — meat is tough to come by during the war, so her pies are mainly crust. She says he can have the room above, which used to be his barber shop, and hands him back his shaving set, which she had kept.

When he once again holds his razor, he declares "My arm is complete," and he puts it to good use, dispatching his customers into Mrs Lovett’s kitchen, where they are baked into her new pies. They are delicious, apparently, but it’s "all to do with herbs," she says.

Although there are no really memorable tunes here, the story and the feelings of the characters is wonderfully told through Steven Sondheim’s lyrics: "And what if none of their souls were saved? They went to their maker impeccably shaved."

In "A Little Priest," Mrs Lovett extols the virtues of all the different kinds of pies we can taste: "Is that squire on the fire? Mercy, no sir, look closer, you'll notice it's grocer."

All of the musical numbers have something to say, and the actors have fine voices. Martin Rojas Dietrich as Beadle showed off an impressive range, and a good knack for humor.

The orchestra was just the right volume, never getting in front of the singers. This is one of Sondheim’s more complex scores, but Musical Director William Liberatore has done a marvelous job keeping the singers and the orchestra together.

Tory Ross is excellent as the London alewife Mrs Lovett, who is happy with her thriving new business. Sweeney, on the other hand, is really only interested in attracting The Judge into his barber shop, so he can use his razor on him.

The story goes through a number of twists and turns and the ending is quite a surprise. I was enthralled for the whole evening, wondering what was going to happen, and who was going to get "shaved" next.

Anthony, Johanna
Kevin Berne / TheatreWorks
Jack Mosbacher as Anthony and Mindy Lym as Johanna in Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd," at TheatreWorks.

Mindy Lym as Johanna and Jack Mosbacher as Anthony provide the love interest, and both their voices are easy on the ears. Spencer Kiely as Toby provides us with some narration and is also the first to realize what is going on, as he helps with grinding the meat for the pies. Mia Fryvecind Giminez is more than a little disturbing as the beggar woman, and Noel Anthony does some nice hand-waving as the Italian barber Pirelli.

Robert Kelley’s resetting of the tale in 1940 London works extremely well, and he makes good use of all the parts and levels of Andrea Bechert’s scenery. An opening into a London tube provides some interesting entrances and exits (including a shadow play) and the barber’s chair has an ingenious delivery mechanism. Without curtains or major changes of scenery, one gradually felt drawn into the underground with the barber and pie shop above, and the excellent costumes served to reinforce the feeling of 1940s London.

Though a little grisly for the youngsters, this is a show that will keep you on the edge of your seat. You may never think of a visit to the hairdresser in the same way again.

Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at tonylt@regardingarts.com

Mrs. Lovett, customers
Kevin Berne / TheatreWorks
Tory Ross as Mrs. Lovett, center, serves up meat pies to Noel Anthony, Carolune Altman and Martin Rojas Dietrich, from left, in Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd," playing at TheatreWorks October 8 through November 2, 2014, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.


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