Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (a review)

Last night my hubby and I went to see a stage production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I had wanted to see this since we received the season schedule last September, but then of course forgot all about it as is my habit. On Thursday morning, I was reading one of the local newspapers and it was advertised for this weekend. So basically I begged (only a little) Nate to take me to see it. We both had Friday night off, it was inexpensive, and I knew he'd enjoy it.

Yes, this is Johnny Depp.
This was the first time I went to a production by the Sheboygan Theatre Company, and I must say that I was impressed by the production as a whole. The high school auditorium they used must have been built with a small professional company in mind. The sound system was incredible; this is particularly of note to me as I do have a hearing loss which causes me to be unable to fully understand what people are saying/singing when recorded. (It's why I use subtitles or captions when I watch television.) The set that was made for Sweeney Todd was well made and versatile; never did scenes take long to change because no piece ever had to be moved off the stage.

The actors and actresses in this production were incredible. I have to admit that my first exposure to Sweeney Todd was through the film by Tim Burton starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, so blood and an air of all things gruesome took center stage. (Yes, I like the movie; I happen to own it.) A friend and I did watch a DVD of the original Broadway musical with Angela Lansbury, which had a slightly more comedic feeling at some parts. I think what we experienced last night was somewhere in between the movie and the original. Definitely not as bloody (I mean how do you even do that on stage?), but not quite as comedic as I recall the original being.

Many people that I know just squirm when I tell them that this is one of my favourite musicals, and with good reason. If you've only been exposed to the Burton film, and you're not at all into Gothic horror, then you'll just be grossed out and bewildered. Fair enough, really. But the stage musical is superb. Musically speaking, it's actually very difficult. Stephen Sondheim writes technically challenging music. Wicked, anyone?

And then there's the story. First of all, the character of Sweeney Todd has been around for kind of a while. He first appeared in a penny dreadful in the Victorian Era. The original tale is available on Amazon for the Kindle here if you're interested. I have a paperback edition that I think has a few other penny dreadfuls in it. But I digress. The point of the story, or at least what I take away from it now (it was simply a Gothic horror tale at first), is that age old question on revenge: when have you gone too far? In the end, Sweeney's obsession with revenge, and Mrs. Lovett's almost fanatical love for Sweeney, get them both killed. Oh yeah, spoiler alert.

I could easily go more in depth with this story and analyse the entire thing, but I won't. If you get a chance, you should see it on stage, especially if the film bothers you. That, and you actually get so much more of the story when you see it on stage, since there are ensemble songs cut out of the film.

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