by Julia Doerr
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Lincoln Community Playhouse, March 10, 2023
If you’ll excuse this cliché, don’t walk; run to get your tickets to see LCP’s current production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It is remarkably well-done in every aspect.
I have always found the whole concept of this Stephen Sondheim musical to be thoroughly bizarre, but that is very much the point. It is in no way a sunny romance but a dark look at human nature and revenge. In this staging, the Prologue appropriately begins underground in the London subway, where the Company performs “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” as a chorus of strong singing voices with strong choreography, setting the mood and providing exposition very effectively. A few solo turns reveal the high quality of the individual voices that comprise this impressive chorus.
One thing I noticed right away was the effective miking. Good job, sound designer BJ Montague! Lyrics are all understandable, and that makes this audience member comfortable and quickly engaged. It is no small thing. And the costume designs by Maralee Maldavs contribute to the overall visual effect of the show as well as enhancing the characterizations.
Few plays feature a protagonist as problematic as Sweeney Todd, who has a powerful and sympathetic motive for his vengeance-seeking return to London, but who is still a relentless killer. JD Madsen plays the role believably and with a formidable stage presence in his LCP debut. I hope we will see more of him. Todd’s dark obsessiveness is balanced by the character of Mrs. Lovett, his partner in crime, who provides much needed comic relief. Lauren Durban’s performance in this role is a good match for Madsen’s. While Todd is the dark and murderous philosopher, Lovett is more down-to-earth and practical. She sings the self-deprecating “Worst Pies in London” and then provides the inspired and equally dark solution to their mutual problems. The pair’s duet, “A Little Priest,” is a wickedly funny end to the first act.
The two “villains” of the piece (if the protagonists aren’t villainous enough for you) are similarly matched, with Judge Turpin as the more tortured soul and his Beadle the more practical engineer of their self-serving villainy. Scott Edwards and Christian Cardona perform admirably in these roles.
There is really only one stereotypical hero in Sweeney Todd, and that is the appropriately named Anthony Hope, who woos the stereotypically lovely Johanna in a love-at-first-sight scenario that calls to mind Romeo and Juliet’s courtship. It might be considered ironic then that [spoiler alert] they are the couple that remains standing at the end of the play, while most of the rest of the cast suffers the fate of Hamlet’s cast. The epic feeling of this musical makes the comparison to Shakespeare seem apt. Act II of this “Musical Thriller” underscores the tragedy of assuming one might be able to deliver poetic justice to a wicked world.
Two things I must add in closing. First, I have already mentioned the strong singing by the chorus, but let me add that all the singing is really stellar with the special wonder being where they found so many really fine tenors. Stuart Ritchey, Christian Cardona, and Samuel Pharris deserve special mention in this regard. Second, Ann Marie Pollard’s fine direction stands out in everything I saw on stage tonight. I really enjoyed this show.
If you go: Sweeney Todd runs March 10-12, 17-19. Fri/Sat 7:30PM, Sun 2PM. Ticket information at https://www.lincolnplayhouse.com. The production is recommended for audiences 12 years and older, and contains adult themes and theatrical fog/haze.
Julia Doerr is a retired high school English teacher with a lifelong love of theatre.
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