‘Sweeney Todd’: a darkly hilarious tackle Sondheim’s murderous musical

On a sizzling Sunday afternoon, Pigott Theater was full of an viewers keen to look at a ugly Victorian melodrama about homicide and cannibalistic pies. Stanford Gentle Opera Firm’s (SLOCo) performances of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Road” have been all bought out, and rightfully so —  the musical was as hilarious and musically attractive because it was macabre.

“Sweeney Todd” tells the story of the barber Sweeney Todd (Victor Ragsdale ’19) and his path of bloody vengeance in dirty Nineteenth-century London. Returning to London from a wrongful exile, he and the struggling pie-shop proprietor, Mrs. Lovett (Sarah Lewis ’24), hatch a grotesque plan to butcher barbershop clientele and use them as filling for pies. This scheme is a part of a revenge plot towards Choose Turbin (Zhang Bai-Han ’25), a horrible man who raped Todd’s spouse and stole Todd’s daughter Johanna (Jin-Hee Lee ’23) to lift as his personal. 

The musical came about on a easy set within the intimate Pigott Theater. A staircase led as much as a raised platform with a barbershop chair on stage left and a railed balcony on stage proper. Nevertheless, the solid additionally made use of offstage motion, making the entire manufacturing really feel much more haunting and intrusive. Todd’s bloodied victims marched out from again exits behind the viewers like ghosts, whereas a remaining violent encounter between Todd and Lovett came about offstage, proper in entrance of the primary row of seats.

Regardless of the chilling subject material, the corporate’s efficiency balanced heavy subjects with levity and camp, exemplified by its main duo’s dynamics. Ragsdale embodied Todd as brooding and totally obsessive about vengeance, which was contrasted effectively by Lewis’ hotter, sassy tackle Lovett. Many laughs got here out of watching Ragsdale’s deadpan response in the direction of Lewis’ romantic advances in “By the Sea” and her teasing of his stoic demeanor.

One other star duo have been Lee and Aman Singh ’22, who performed the lovers Johanna and Anthony. Lee’s high-pitched melodies blended superbly with Singh’s resonant voice, particularly in “Kiss Me,” when the 2 deliberate to elope. Singh’s spry, youthful Anthony was a delight to look at alongside Lee’s melancholic-but-passionate Johanna.

There have been moments all through the present the place the lyrics have been obscure. This can be partly because of the musical’s patter songs — a difficult fast-tempo kind of music that may clarify enunciation tough. The sound of the orchestra additionally swallowed singers’ voices at instances.

Except for these occasional difficulties, the solid and orchestra skillfully tackled a bunch of complicated harmonies and rhythms. Within the opening quantity, “Prelude,” the performers managed to swing from eerily discordant melodies to a strong, collectively chanted chorus. The ensemble sang along with an intense vocal drive that totally seized the vitality of the smaller theater, particularly in songs equivalent to “Metropolis on Hearth” when the refrain belted amid the chaos of Johanna breaking out of the asylum. Moments like these made the insanity of Todd and this world really feel ever-present and inescapable.

SLOCo’s rendition of the Seventies musical integrated many modern parts. On Lovett’s desk, a hand-crank meat grinder sat alongside purple solo cups and Tums. These anachronisms have been at instances comedic, such because the second when Lovett’s younger helper Toby (Star Doby ’23) busted down with fashionable dance strikes to English parlor songs. 

Nevertheless, different fashionable parts felt pointless, equivalent to when Choose Turpin randomly regarded right into a glowing iPad whereas lustfully singing for his adopted daughter in “Johanna — Mea Culpa,” or when Toby offered an elixir to a crowd with telephones and selfie lights. These appeared like half-hearted makes an attempt to attach the play to fashionable sensibilities, which felt misplaced amid old school subjects and costumes.

Altogether, SLOCo managed to craft a well-executed model of “Sweeney Todd” that was genuinely enjoyable. Positive, the play itself ends fairly brutally (spoiler alert), with the younger Toby killing Todd together with his personal blade — however the journey to that finish was one in every of darkish comedy, good musical performances and dreadfully tasty pies. What’s to not love?

Editor’s Notice: This text is a overview and consists of subjective ideas, opinions and critiques.