Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, playing Thursdays-Sundays through March 3-6 at Raleigh Little Theatre, is a dark, rather unpleasant story of a barber unfairly banished to an Australian penal camp for 15 years, after being set up by a judge who coveted his wife. The barber returns and discovers his wife was subsequently raped by the judge and committed suicide, and his daughter has been imprisoned as a ward to the judge, who intends to marry the teenaged girl.
Sweeney Todd is a story of perfidy and vengeance and grotesque distortion of humane principles of civilization. It invites us to seek into the underlying barbarism and insanities that drive much of what has become the daily fodder of modern life. And this is, perhaps, the very reason that it draws us back, and keeps this show identified as one of the greatest musicals of all time; a perennial morality play. That the story, with a book by Hugh Wheeler), comes to us in the form of opera, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, only serves to magnify the enormity of its truth.
RLT artistic director Patrick Torres again proves his value to area theater with this production, which soars from the stage with an almost sacred spirituality, and immediately declares itself allegorical and provocative. Torres has chosen a superior creative team to support a magnificent cast of 22 accomplished actors, dancers, and singers.
David Henderson glistens as the betrayed and eternally vengeful Sweeney Todd, creating a generous and sympathetic character at the start and devolving him into an insatiable serial murderer with an abysmal cynicism. Henderson performs with gusto Todd’s hatred of all humanity, managing somehow to convey a sense of the character’s great perception of betrayal by so-called civilization.
Mrs. Lovett, the maker and purveyor of the famous meat pies of the show, is played by Rose Higgins, whose stage presence is immense, a necessary quality to balance Henderson’s. Her seduction of Todd with “By the Sea” demonstrates an accomplished voice. The dynamics of the piece are difficult, as are many of the complex songs through the show; and Higgins manages them adroitly.
Edward Freeman is stalwart and loving as the young sailor, Anthony Hope, who falls in love with Todd’s daughter without knowing who she is. His name is, perhaps, the light of the play, weaving hope into this morass of unhappiness. Freeman’s rendition of the love song “Johanna” is beautiful, the highlight of his performance.
The Beggar Woman, an ominous character, driven mad by the vicissitudes of her life, is played by Jess Barbour, wheedling her way through the thread of the story with alacrity, always snagging our sympathy along the way.
Ben Pluska gives us Tobias Ragg (Toby), a dull-witted boy who moves from shill for a con man to assistant in the pie-making shop, with clarity and simplicity. He charms us completely with “Perelli’s Miracle Elixir”, a charm that sticks throughout the show.
The show’s wonderful set, designed by Miyuki Su, is deep and dark and plopped right onto the stage from a mid-19th century Fleet Street, London, replete with hazy atmosphere and gray buildings and ambiance. It is completely functional as it represents Bedlam, the judge’s quarters, the meat-pie shop, and the barber’s butchery.
The choreography by Chasta Hamilton Calhoun is complicated and tight, emphasizing the physical proximity and emotional distance of the people of London.
High praises are also due to lighting designer Cailen Waddell for this effort. The costumes by Vicki Olson are, as we have come to expect from this talented designer, unique to the characters, and represent each in his or her station in life. And this large ensemble of actors, singers, dancers, and crew backstage is ably managed by Bunny Safron.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 12th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-review by David Klein: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/sweeney-todd/Event?oid=4537569.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at 8 p.m. Feb. 19-20, 3 p.m. Feb. 21, 8 p.m. Feb. 25-27, 3 p.m. Feb. 28, 8 p.m. March 3-5, and 3 p.m. March 6 in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $24 Thursday ($20 students and seniors 62+) and $27 Friday-Sunday ($23 students and seniors 62+), except $5 per ticket for the two back rows of the balcony, which have restricted views of the stage.
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0Sd000000CuueHEAR.
SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/sweeney.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/653180808158464/.
RLT‘s 2015-16 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/index.html.
PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. In addition, a hearing loop has also been installed in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will interpret the show’s 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19th, performance, using American Sign Language.
NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21st, performance.
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).
Patrick Torres (Raleigh director and RLT artistic director): https://www.facebook.com/patrick.torres.585 (Facebook page).
Chasta Hamilton Calhoun (Raleigh choreographer): https://www.facebook.com/chastahamiltoncalhoun (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.