‘Sweeney Todd’ impresses with opening night despite flaws

Josh Baumbach and Josh Baumbach

ARC Theatre’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” directed by Nancy Silva, is a sweeping musical adventure through a dreary 19th century London. Although suffering some setbacks, “Todd” is sure to leave the viewer satisfied.

When putting on a production of a storied musical such as “Sweeney Todd,” the most important part is the music. The 19-piece ARC pit orchestra did a fabulous job of bringing the epic soundtrack of “Todd” to life. Pounding drums, blaring horns, and gloomy violins all come together fantastically to re-create the classic Stephen Sondheim sound. The only issue with the orchestra was that it was too loud during some parts and drowned out the actor’s singing.

The sets were sparse but not without some interesting pieces. There was a fully-working barber chair that would drop the victim down below by pulling a lever, and a four-sided house that was used at multiple angles for different scenes. Fog was always looming around the stage giving a sense of impending doom. The costumes were excellent and added to the realism of the time period. And despite comments from the director about gore being absent, some form of fake blood was used during murder scenes. Although there might not have been too many alternating sets, it never took the audience out of the play, thanks in part to the lighting. The backdrop of the city would change from night to morning, all with a simple lighting change.

The cast had an overall great performance, but there were some that stood out more than others. Brianne Hidden-Wise, who plays Mrs. Lovett, was the standout of the show. Her mix of humor and ability to change pitch quickly while she was singing was entertaining to watch, and she helped carry the plot forward better than anyone else.

Anthony and Johanna, played by Clay Kirkwood and Kellee Craven respectively, had electric chemistry in nearly every scene they were in. This was evident throughout the play, but especially during the “Kiss Me” segments, where they were perfectly in sync with each other, and anything otherwise would have ruined the moment.

Judge Turpin, portrayed by Joel Porter, and The Beadle, played by Andrew Leggett, made the evil pair convincingly despicable. There was a bit more of humor than other iterations between them, such as Leggett’s exaggerated pompous walk, or Porter’s dark humor relating to the creepiness between him and Johanna. But that was a welcome addition in this viewer’s eyes.

Kathryn Busch was tiring to watch as she ran around the stage screaming “Alms! Alms!” as the Beggar Woman. Her energy brought the character the necessary craziness needed and helped add to the play’s climax.

The character that had an unfortunately short amount of time on stage was Adolfo Pirelli, the rival barber, played by Barnie Warrick. His accent was spot-on, and every scene he was in was a hilarious to watch.

The ensemble cast was excellent as a crowd and as assorted bit parts. Their ongoing “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” weaved together nicely throughout the play to narrate in song.

Despite these great performances, there were some less-inspired ones as well.

Jonathan Blum, who played the depressed lead Sweeney Todd, did not have the range for the part. During what is supposed to be the most powerful solo effort in the play, “Epiphany,” Blum’s singing felt rushed and lacked the feeling of a mixed sadness and anger necessary to the song. Emotional points in the play were punctuated by forced yelling when it should have been more subtle, and when singing, Blum’s arms would often lay stationary by his side, portraying a certain awkwardness rather than the necessary emotion needed at the moment. This disappointing performance may have kept the production from reaching its true potential.

Tobias, as played by Peter Messick, was funny at most times, perhaps too often, because he was never believable as a young boy who had been abused. Messick also had some pitch issues during his singing performances, especially the high notes of “Not While I’m Around.”

Even with these subpar performances, and a bloated running time of about 3 hours, “Sweeney Todd” still entertained and excited, and there was never a boring moment. It was a thrilling way to spend a Friday night.