Dark, deep, disturbing, and droll are the perfect words to describe Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, onstage now at Playmakers Repertory Company under the rich and vibrant direction of Jen Wineman.
The musical, which tells the tragic and ultimately vengeful story of the title character, a man who returns from an unjust exile to find the life he left behind has been shattered beyond recognition, is full of creepy imagery, complex characters, and even more complex themes, the layers of which are thoroughly explored and realized in this production.
Opening with the expositional song “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” this production roars to a smoky, spooky start. Tito Hernandez’ simple but fascinating choreography and Wineman’s use of every inch of the stage create immediate visual interest while Sondheim’s telling lyrics do the rest of the work.
As the story speeds ahead, unraveling piece by piece, rich performances bring this motley crew of characters to life. David St. Louis, with his indomitable appearance and demeanor to match, makes for a wonderfully imposing title character.
His bold, non-comical take on the character is well-tempered by Annie Golden’s more humorous, lighthearted (or as lighthearted as one can get in such a dark story) portrayal of Todd’s sidekick, Mrs. Lovett, the owner of a poorly-supplied pie shop who assists and encourages Todd in the devious deeds that unfold as the story moves forward. Ray Dooley and Julie Fishell also shine in their supporting roles, taking on a similar, well-paralleled dynamic.
Filled with tension and anticipation which the director is not afraid to draw out to the point of wonderful discomfort, this dark but still funny show is really given a new life in this strong production. The somber lighting and somewhat-subdued characterizations allow the story and the writing to really break through, revealing thoughtful elements and deeper societal meanings that often get lost in more comical, over-the-top renditions. This is a “thinking man’s” Sweeney Todd, if you will, and it’s truly wonderful to behold.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, starring David St. Louis as Sweeney Todd and Annie Golden as Mrs. Lovett, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 9, 2 p.m. April 10, 7:30 p.m. April 12-16, 2 p.m. April 17, and 7:30 p.m. April 21-23 in the Paul Green Theatre, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27599, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
PRC NEWS RELEASE: http://playmakersrep.org/press/PlayMakers-presents-sondheim-musical-sweeney-todd/.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 9th (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).
NOTE 3: There will be a FREE post-show discussion with members of the creative team following the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, April 10th, performance.
NOTE 4: UNC’s Program in the Humanities and Human Values will host a program entitled Table Talk: Creative Choices from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, featuring new PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, dramaturg Gregory Kable, and scenic designer Jan Chambers, at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 11th, at the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill. Tickets are $80, which includes a three-course dinner. For details, call 919-962-1544 or click http://humanities.unc.edu/programs/special-event/tabletalk2016/.
NOTE 5: On Friday, April 15th, the UNC General Alumni Association will host An Evening at PlayMakers, which includes a preshow reception with PRC’s artistic staff, starting at 6 p.m., followed by the 7:30 p.m. performance of Sweeney Todd. The cost per person is $60 ($40 for GAA members), which includes the theater ticket. To register online, click https://alumni.unc.edu/events/an-evening-at-PlayMakers-sweeney-todd/.
NOTE 6: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussion after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17th, performances.
Sweeney Todd (character): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd (Wikipedia).
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1973 play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/1746/sweeney-todd-the-demon-barber-of-fleet-street (Samuel French, Inc.).
Christopher Bond (book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Bond (Wikipedia).
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979 Broadway and 1980 West End musical): http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000075 (Music Theatre International), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=8451 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd:_The_Demon_Barber_of_Fleet_Street (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.mtishowspace.com/action/file/download?file_guid=193716 (Music Theatre International).
Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics): http://www.sondheim.org/ (Stephen Sondheim Society), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/12430 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0814227/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sondheim (Wikipedia).
Hugh Wheeler (book): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/6402 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0923839/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Wheeler (Wikipedia).
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007 film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0408236/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd:_The_Demon_Barber_of_Fleet_Street_%282007_film%29 (Wikipedia).
Jen Wineman (Brooklyn, NY-based PRC guest director): http://jenwineman.com/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/jen-wineman/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), and http://lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/42504 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Tito Hernandez (Raleigh, NC-based choreographer and Dance Department Head at the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/tito-hernandez/ (PlayMakers Rep bio) and http://nctheatre.com/page/about-conservatory (NCT bio).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.