SWEENEY TODD, Producer: Johnny Soln, Music Director: Lyle Corrigan, Director: David Silvestri
Well, one of the grand daddies of all musicals opened March 23 at the Oshawa Little Theatre in blazing glory. ‘Sweeney Todd’ is one musical (and it’s not a comedy by any means, albeit there are some humorous moments) that most singers and actors would like to add to their resume. Set in 19th century England, the story details the return of barber Sweeney Todd (a diabolical delivery by David Cardinal) to London after 15 years of exile in order to take revenge on the corrupt judge (an astounding performance by Tom Lynch) who banished him, by conspiring with a local baker, Mrs. Lovett (a wickedly attentive performance by Tabitha Alexis) who is in desperate need of fresh meat for her pies. There are elements of the Parisian Grand Guignol in how Lovett and Todd conspire to turn the ‘worst pies’ in London to ones that are ‘oh, so good’.
Like a good number of Sondheim musicals, ‘Sweeney’ is one that is particularly difficult to sing because the music comprises so many harmonies and melodies. I am positive music director Lyle Corrigan would have had to work these singers and actors stringently to ensure those notes were hit. Thank goodness the majority sported microphones as this is a show that requires every single word sung to be heard; otherwise, it is extremely easy to get lost either in the plot development or the orchestra overpowering the company.
Upon entering the auditorium, we are treated immediately to a veritable feast for the eyes. Ian Handscomb and team’s spectacular set design combined with Colin Hughes’ stunning lighting effects transport us immediately to the London of long ago. Once again, the costume team at OLT must be recognized for its painstaking work involved in selecting materials, textures and fabrics to complement each player whether he or she is a central character, supporting character or ensemble member.
As SWEENEY is a three-hour production with intermission, the pacing and staging are of utmost importance to director David Silvestri and, for the most part, the cast works diligently to maintain the momentum in propelling the story forward. Some of those set pieces look extremely hard to manoeuver and, as performances continue, I’m sure all the marks will be hit quickly and safely. There are some outstanding moments that need to be highlighted. As the simpleton Tobias, Sheldon Suepaul tugs at our hearts as he sings “Not While I’m Around” to Mrs. Lovett. I wondered how the murders would have been committed once the infamous barber’s chair was revealed – with the use of lights, each one is chilling to watch. As lovebirds Johanna and Anthony, Taylor Rodkin and Jason Butler Burns convincingly juxtapose that goodness can and tries to exist in the dark underbelly of London. Alison Braley-Rattai’s Beggar Woman captures beautifully the life of the poor and just that final element of sadness that sends Todd over the edge. Jeremy Cook as Beadle continually senses how following the law is of utmost importance even though the world around him is crumbling. Johnny Soln offers much needed laughter as the shyster, Pirelli, before the carnage begins.
What is most outstanding in this production, nevertheless, is the vocal work of the entire ensemble, and this would include when the principal players join in. Once again, it is encouraging to see how many of these performers range from extensive work on other shows to those who are just beginning their involvement in community theatre. Kudos to Lyle Corrigan as the singing in this production is comparable to what one would pay big bucks to see on the Mirvish stages in downtown Toronto.
‘Sweeney Todd’ continues at the Oshawa Little Theatre March 25 – 31 and April 1 – 9 at 8 pm with some matinee performances at 2 pm. Contact the box office at (905) 723-0282 or for further information.