What’s a chap to do when he’s finally free after having been unfairly framed, transported abroad and imprisoned for 15 years by a crooked judge?
Why, change his name, find a partner (in-crime) open his own business and get even with his nemesis, right?
That’s the plot of the 1979 Tony winning musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, currently playing as a co-production of the Novato Theater Company and the fledgling Theatre-at-Large, as part of NTC’s 100th season.
The business in question is a barber shop, which Sweeny, Benjamin Barker, (Bruce Vieira) opens when he arrives back in London’s Victorian-era cesspool, while his erstwhile partner, Mrs. Lovett, (Alison Peltz) is a down-on-her-luck pie-shop owner.
Sweeney is out for revenge and dispatches his customers through a trap-door (nicely handled on a hulking, two-storey set by Chris McGregor), down to the basement bakery, complete with a ginormous oven, where Mrs. Lovett bakes ’em up into pies that are the toast of the town, like a late-19th Century Krispy Kreme…Today we call it synergy.
Marin Mountain Play-goers will recognize Vieira, (one of Marin’s award-winning, best actor/directors, he fluidly co-directs this show with Kim Bromley), from his many prior roles, including Tevya in ‘Fiddler’ and Jud Fry in ‘Oklahoma’ and he doesn’t disappoint as Sweeny either.
Glowering menacingly, Vieira stalks the stage (and the aforementioned Judge Turpin (Charles Evans) who framed Barker so that he, Turpin, could pursue Barker’s young, beautiful wife.
Peltz, on the other hand, (award-winning in Theater at Large’s ‘Next to Normal’), depicts Mrs. Lovett differently from most other productions of this show that I’ve seen…less dark, heavy and scheming, more light-hearted and irrepressibly fun, she flitters and flutters and flatters and dances around Sweeney quite cheerfully…and it works beautifully!
The two other stars of this show however are the brilliant music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, rendered jauntily by a septet led by Judy Wiesen, while Marilyn Izdebski’s confident choreography keeps the murky Londoners moving nimbly around the wide but shallow, NTC stage.
Sondheim’s lyrics and harmonies are dense and complicated but an extended rehearsal period allowed this cast the opportunity to nail each song and they do it very well.
Solid performances by Cordell Wesselink as Sweeney’s shipmate Anthony, Julianne Breton as Sweeney’s long-lost daughter Johanna, Fernando Sui as Mrs. Lovett’s assistant Tobias, and Jane Harrington as the wild-eyed Beggar Woman, are ably supported by Mauricio Suarez as Judge Turpin’s sly henchman Beadle Hamforth and Dominic Quin-Harkin as the Italian huckster Adolfo Pirelli.
It’s good to see Vieira back on stage after a protracted absence and with a deft touch, he and co-director Bromley handle the macabre, grisly bits of the show lightly, using red light to depict Sweeney’s heinous, tonsorial terrorism.
Perhaps not appropriate for the entire family, it should entertain, yet not frighten the living daylights out of those already in their teens…As for the adults, I make no such promise.
What: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Where: Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Dr. Novato, California.
When: Through Nov. 17 2019 Fri and Sat 7.30 pm, Sun. 2 pm.
Tix: $18-$30 at novatotheatercompany.org