Fleet Street Tale Frightens, Delights
By Ethan Gates '12, A&L Section Editor, and Elaine Teng '12, Editor in Chief
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,” urged the opening lines of last weekend’s Interterm musical. Those who were lucky enough to snag a seat at the show’s sell-out run followed this advice gladly, as the talented cast and crew put on a memorable and arresting production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Every piece of the show worked in harmony, providing an entertaining (albeit stomach-churning) night at the theater.

Opening with a chilling foreshadowing of Sweeney’s funeral, the show flashes back to recount the whole grisly tale of the Demon Barber’s quest for revenge. Exiled to Australia by the corrupt Judge Turpin, Sweeney returns to London years later desperate to reclaim the life he lost. After encountering his old neighbor Mrs. Lovett, who informs him of his wife’s tragic fate, the two devise a blood-curdling scheme combining Sweeney’s “talent” for a close shave and Mrs. Lovett’s meat pie shop. En route they come across a young orphan, Sweeney’s long-lost daughter, her lover and a crazed, vulgar beggar woman, amongst others.

The roles of Sweeney Todd and Judge Turpin were double-cast, allowing Marshall Nannes ’09 to play the title role on Thursday and Saturday, while David Ressler ’13 starred on Friday. This unfortunately forced many audience members (including these reviewers) to make a difficult choice when deciding which performance to attend, and probably caused unnecessary confusion backstage.

His baritone and emphatic delivery ringing through Buckley, Nannes captured the rage and crazed lust for vengeance of the Demon Barber, giving the character both emotional depth and occasional moments of levity, such as during “A Little Priest.” Nannes’ on-stage chemistry with Moorman, as seen in last year’s musical “Evita,” was also evident as the two played off each other in their unrequited, deluded and yet affectionate love story.

Though all the actors played their roles well, the star of the show was undoubtedly Julie Moorman ’11 as the diabolical yet loving Mrs. Lovett. From her impeccable cockney accent to her flawless singing, Moorman made the audience both laugh and cry with her humor, psychosis and unreciprocated adoration for Sweeney. Captivating the audience from her very first entrance, in which she attacks the dough that she nonchalantly declares will be “the worst pies in London” with her rolling pin, Moorman never lets the audience go as she balanced the tender and the murderous in her complex role.

Joining the leads was Mark Knapp ’10 as Anthony Hope, the young, love struck sailor who hopes to elope with Sweeney’s imprisoned daughter. Knapp perfectly captured Anthony’s wide-eyed sentimentality and childish romanticism and lit up the otherwise dark show with his exuberance and naiveté culminating in his beautiful rendition of the ballad “Johanna.”

Jeffrey Moro ’13 and Ben Vincent ’09 made maximum use of their limited stage time, as the fraudulent and extravagant barber Adolfo Pirelli and Judge Turpin’s effeminate crony Beadle Bamford, respectively, stealing every scene they featured in. Every time Vincent, dressed in a fat suit and sporting a cane and top hat, moved across the stage in his waddling glide, the audience broke out into laughter and adored him despite his villainous role. Likewise, Moro, waving his cape and charming the crowd with his flamboyant Italian accent, became a comedic highlight that was sorely missed once he fell to Sweeney’s razor.

No production is complete without an ensemble, and “Sweeney”’s was excellent, narrating the bloody tale, hitting all the notes and complementing the leads well. Though a few missing British accents jarred against the rest of the cast, the effect was minimal. The orchestra — whose ability to squeeze into only two rows of seating was in itself impressive — balanced the vocals well and heightened the suspense. The stage itself came alive as part of an excellent set design, which allowed for several parallel planes of actions, such as in “Poor Thing,” where Mrs. Lovett narrates Sweeney’s wife’s fate at the hands of Judge Turpin, as the recollection is reenacted simultaneously. Another directorial highlight was the treatment of Sweeney’s murders. While the self-disposing corpses tested the audience’s belief — or at least made many laugh — the use of the red spotlight and the screeching of the violins to indicate an important death heighted the grotesque darkness of the play.

All in all, the show’s powerful themes of obsession and lust shined through, leaving the audience with the haunting image of the shaking, babbling orphan Toby, seemingly driven mad by the senseless violence of Sweeney Todd’s actions. For all of the production’s fun, “Sweeney Todd” also managed to be a thought-provoking, challenging piece of art. It’s enough to make one re-consider a career in barbering.

Issue 13, Submitted 2010-02-02 20:59:14