Blood flows freely in this murderous, musical depiction of madness
January 31, 2019
Perhaps you know of the musical thriller “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” due to a certain seventh season episode of “The Office” or the 2007 Tim Burton movie of the same name starring cast members from the wizarding world.
Stephen Sondheim’s story has been made infamous by these caricatures of the original piece, but this melodramatic tale is so much more—and Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City has done it justice. The opening night of “Sweeney” premiered Jan. 25 under the artistic direction of Josh Marx.
The tale centers around exiled barber Benjamin Barker, who returns to 18th century England for vengeance after being framed for a crime he did not commit by an evil judge who wished to ravage Barker’s beautiful wife.
Barker adopts a new name, Sweeney Todd, and unites with failing business owner Mrs. Lovett, who makes “the worst pies in London.” Together, they find a way to satisfy Todd’s bloodlust and increase Lovett’s meat pie sales.
Lead actor Keith Pinto’s interpretation of Todd was twitchy and distracted, but he truly came alive during “Epiphany,” in which he declares that “Not one man, no, nor ten men/ Nor a hundred can assuage [him]” and that “We all deserve to die.”
Mrs. Lovett was beautifully portrayed by powerhouse Heather Orth, whose towering stature at 6 feet rivaled the intensity of her voice.
Throughout the show Orth simultaneously sings rapid-fire bars while pounding dough or running to and fro across the stage, ensuring her customers are wellcared for.
Todd’s daughter Johanna, played by Jennifer Mitchell, was perfectly cast due to her experience in both musical theatre and opera. She performed with a ringing vibrato in her soprano voice of “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.”
Her love interest Anthony (Jaron Vesely) had a strong stage presence and was a like able character due to his unwavering faith in Todd and love for Johanna.
Ross Briscoe as Tobias was a bit rigid throughout the performance and could’ve sang with more uniformity by taking off force at the end of bars during “Not While I’m Around” or adding more emotion throughout the piece.
However, this was no issue for the ensemble, who was wonderful with dynamics for the duration of the show. were duets and quartets. One such rendition was “Ladies in Their Sensitivities,” in which Turpin reveals his intentions to marry Johanna and Beadle suggests the judge get a shave from Todd, all while Johanna and Anthony plan their escape to wed in France.
Another highlight was “Pretty Women,” sung by Todd and Turpin, but the flute was woefully out of time, which was unfortunate because the actors did a lovely job unifying their hums and whistles.
Overall, this stellar performance was accompanied by a sad pit orchestra. Again the flute player’s timing was a little off more than once and the strings lacked precision. The brass section was too quiet, especially during some of the show’s most triumphant moments.
The ending was also different than other stage renditions I’ve seen, regarding the disappearance and reappearance of certain characters and the timing of a particular nursery rhyme.
And yet, practically every other element of the show was perfect. The costuming was sublime, especially Pirelli’s golden street garb, Johanna’s blue muslin gown and Lovett’s second act attire upgrade when business starts booming.
The intimate 1940s-era theatre also offered great set design, from the floor painted to look like 18th-century cobblestones to the illustrious barber chair that propelled victims forward into the bakehouse, complete with a glowing oven.
In all, it was a bloody good show.
Contact Erin Fox at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.