Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Gory glory for Suzart

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Categories: Community Theatre

Photo: Suzart After Dark

Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

Suzart After Dark

Directed by Kraig-Paul Proulx

Dark and difficult but never dreary, Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is recognized as extremely complex musically and very demanding technically. The massive challenge of the 1979 Tony award-winner was made even greater for Suzart Productions when the female lead dropped out just two days before the show opened.

This is the second time that this has happened to Suzart. The company had to deal with a similar last-minute crisis when mounting Hello Dolly last year. On that occasion, the musical director stepped into the title role a week before opening. At least, she had been present during the show rehearsals. For Sweeney Todd, the time frame was much shorter and the rescuer had not been involved in the lead-up to the production.

You would hardly know it, however, watching Jennifer Fontaine’s strong characterization of Mrs. Lovett. The only clue was the score she carried as a safety net. But she made time to have fun with the role of the meat-pie maker, whose baking became tastier, with the fruits of Todd’s murderous labours.

Neither was there any indication from the rest of the cast of any change of dynamic. Joseph Stone, in the title role, is strong both vocally and in his delivery of the tortured demon barber. Jay Landreville, as the simple Tobias Ragg, Mrs. Lovett’s protégé, relates to her effectively and their Not While I’m Around duet is one of the most touching moments of the show. 

Director Kraig-Paul Proulx delivers a disciplined Greek chorus, choreographed into well-orchestrated sharp movements, and maintains the sense of melodrama and Victorian ‘penny dreadful’ of the storyline. Set designer Elaine McCausland, with support from lighting designer Jeff Schulz and sound designer Justin Ladelpha, delivers on the necessarily threatening ambience.

The character of Sweeney Todd first appeared in an 1846 serialized publication, The String of Pearls. The homicidal barber grew into an urban legend and the subject of various writings over the years. In 1973, British playwright Christopher Bond adapted the tale to provide a rationale for Todd the killer seeking revenge after the injustices he and his family suffered at the hands of the corrupt Judge Turpin. This version became the basis of the musical by Stephen Sondheim, with book by Hugh Wheeler.

Almost an opera, the show is heavily dependent on having performers with well trained singing voices and the ability to continue without much support from an orchestra, frequently required to move in a different direction. In this production, the orchestra, led by conductor/keyboardist Adam Reid, is suitably sinister and the singers, while some are occasionally drowned out, generally perform creditably or better.

Any problems that are evident are in limitations in acting ability. For example, Peter Maitland, as Judge Turpin, sings well, but except in his self-flagellation number, does not seem especially sinister. Neither is there any obvious chemistry between Cynthia Wood as Joanna and Jason Sedlar as the sailor Anthony Hope, as the young lovers, although both have fine singing voices.

Nevertheless, the company in general and Fontaine in particular are to be congratulated on a strong ensemble production that maintains its momentum and cohesion in the face of an event that could have brought the show to a grinding halt.

Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street completed its run at the Centrepointe Studio Theatre on February 25.

Director: Kraig-Paul Proulx

Musical director: Adam Reid

Set: Elaine McCausland

Lighting: Jeff Schulz

Sound: Justin Ladelpha

Costumes: Maureen Russell

Cast:

Sweeney Todd…………………………………………Joseph Stone

Mrs. Lovett…………………………………………….Jennifer Fontaine

Anthony Hope…………………………………………Jason Sedlar

Joanna…………………………………………………Cynthia Wood

Judge Turpin…………………………………………..Peter Maitland

Beadle…………………………………………………Terry Thompson

Tobias Ragg……………………………………………Jay Landreville

Adolfo Pirelli…………………………………………..Andrew Portolesi

Beggar woman…………………………………………Dani Bone-Corbishley

Jonas Fogg/chorus……………………………………..Christopher Natuik

Chorus: Nadia Beaupre, Fenton Ho, Anna McCready, Tara St. Pierre, Wendi Smith

Orchestra

Adam Reid……………………………………conductor/keyboard

Michele Di Franco…………………………….bassoon

Guy Edrington…………………………………horn

Jessica Granata………………………………..trumpet

Greg Horvath………………………………….bass

Alex Kanabe………………………………….trumpet

Terry Kirkpatrick……………………………..percussion

Pat Messner…………………………………..percussion

Larry Sargent…………………………………clarinet

Aidan Shenkman………………………….….keyboard

Cynthia Yuschyshyn…………………………trombone


Past Reviews