Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed and choreographed by Scott A Cook
Musical Direction by David Foust
Starring Nick Kroger and Candy Heller
The Garden Theater, Winter Garden, FL
Any more bodies on this stage and they’d have to sing in Italian and call it an opera. Sweeny Todd (Kroger) escaped from Australia and made his way back to London, seeking vengeance for his ambiguously deserved sentence. He was a barber but tonight he’s doing advanced studies in mass murder as he hacks his way through the hirsute London middle classes. His partner and landlady is Mrs. Lovett (Heller); her meat pies are as dodgy as her morals. But before long they achieve fame, fortune and a reputation for the smelliest smokestack in the East End. Supporting this deathly duo is a good hearted Anthony Hope (Robb Ross); he rescued Mr. Todd, feeds him clues and helps rescue Todd’s daughter Johanna (Jennica McCleary.) She’s forcibly engaged to her evil warder Judge Turpin (Alexander Mrazek); he’s the man who sentenced Todd to “transportation” as they so quaintly call it, and then stole his daughter and motivated the show.
The twin dynamos of Heller’s Lovett and Kroger’s Sweeney electrify this show. He features the haunted, hunted look you would use to detect any psychopathic murderer. Lovett’s grin is easily as large; while she razzes Todd about his single minded search for vengeance she dreams of a normal sea side honeymoon while chopping up the unsuspecting middle class. Mrazecks’s Turpin is a also bigger than life; he has a prodigious memory of those he’s sentenced. He’s just as evil as Todd and Lovett, but he takes his evil personally and is offended that anyone, no matter how desperate, would think lightly of the King’s Law. The touching heart of the show is Mr. Ross’s kindly Anthony Hope; not only is he essential to counter balance the evil of the Pie Shop, he’s a sailor on shore and subtly emotes “There is an escape, if only you would take it.” The staging of the show is dark and ominous, it echoes that lengthy French Revolution going on across town. Paris during the terror, London under Victoria, who’s to say which is more evil? And you know this is an Important Show because everyone takes it so seriously, even the funny bits.
I didn’t keep a close count on the deaths, but I’m sure a few minor characters felt Sweeny’s all-too-close shave more than once. There was humor in James F. Beck’s clever set and when dead bodies started popping out of the backdrop you knew the murders had passed from tragedy to comedy. A few holes lurk in the plot;, most of the victims seemed well to do and after the 14th or 15th gentleman went missing. You would think the Beadle (Nathan Jesse) would start to hear things. But this is musical comedy, and a black musical comedy at that. We all love this art form for its logic: If you can’t say it, sing it; if you can’t sing it, dance it; and if you can’t dance it, just slit someone’s throat and move the furniture around.
For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org