‘Sweeney Todd’ bursts with darkness, innovation and energy

‘Sweeney Todd’ bursts with darkness, innovation and energy

SHOW: SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
CAST: JONATHAN ROXMOUTH, CHARON WILLIAMS-ROS, MICHAEL RICHARD, SANLI JOOSTE, CAMERON BOTHA, ADAM PELKOWITZ, GERMANDT GELDENHUYS, JACO VAN RENSBURG, ANNE-MARIE CLULOW, CANDICE VAN LITSENBORGH
DIRECTOR: STEVEN STEAD
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: ROWAN BAKKER
VENUE: THEATRE ON THE BAY, CAMPS BAY, FROM FEBRUARY 19
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

(This review is of the production that was showcased at Pieter Toerien’s Main Theatre at Montecasino during the festive season. The Next 48hOURS has been assured that the show is unchanged for its Cape Town run.)

‘Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ is a musical that eschews the usual light and frothy hallmarks of the genre for something altogether darker and sinister. A parody of the ‘Penny Dreadful’ novels that were popular in Victorian times, it fully embraces the aforementioned qualities, plus the macabre Grand Guignol style in its presentation.

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler conceived this Tony Award-winning musical in 1979, a Victorian melodrama about Sweeney Todd, an English barber and serial killer who murders his customers with a straight razor and, with the help of his neighbour and accomplice, the well-endowed Mrs. Lovett, processes their corpses into delicious meat pies. It was later turned into a horror-type movie, directed by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp as the murderous barber.

Renowned director Steven Stead, with a large cast at his disposal, has now fashioned a new production that bursts with darkness, innovation and energy. Stephen Sondheim’s music, which includes such gems as ‘Pretty Women, ‘Johanna,’ ‘Not While I’m Around,’ ‘By the Sea,’ ‘A Little Priest’ and ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’, envelopes the audience in its musical sweep.
The celebrated Jonathan Roxmouth, sweating under make-up and a bald pate, makes an ideal Sweeney Todd, a gruff, no-nonsense individual bent on revenge who introduces some ‘cutting’ edge imagery to his thriving little business. He contends well with the vocal demands of the material.

As the blousy, garrulous and devious Mrs Lovett, Charon Williams-Ros certainly leaves an impression and her vocals stir the emotions. She commands the stage with her presence and makes every scene tell.
Michael Richard, as the conniving and nasty Judge Turpin, hasn’t a great deal to do, but his style shines through on each occasion. Cameron Botha, as Anthony Hope, whose love for the doomed and beautiful Johanna (Sanli Jooste), keeps his world alive has a fine singing voice that could be heard clearly at all times. The ensemble morphs into a variety of characters and helps provide a few potent set-pieces, one being in Mrs Lovett’s shop where customers devour her pies, washed down with beer, and praise their tastiness in song.

The scene in the lunatic asylum is also effective.
Greg King has mounted an ingeniously conceived set, which recalls the streets of Victorian London, and it works impressively on different levels. However, it did seem too large for the theatre stage (Pieter Toerien’s Main Theatre), occasionally resulting in a crowding of the players.
Neil Stuart Harris’s striking costumes and Tina Le Roux’s evocative lighting added immeasurably to the play’s visual punch.
All in all, this version of ‘Sweeney Todd’ is certainly a darkly entertaining experience with commanding performances from key members of its cast.

* Book at Computicket.