by Sarah A. Peterson
Serial murders, revenge, cannibalism, young love, and a close shave. This opera has them all.
Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street tore up the stage Saturday, February 20, 2016, at downtown Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre in a frenzied whirl of greed, lust, insanity, and the occasional bucket of blood. Director and choreographer John de los Santos chose a muted palette of pewters and charcoals to set the tone of “Todd” leaving the stage in a wash of industrial gloom. The cast milled about in similar hues, evoking the grit and grime of London’s Fleet Street circa nineteenth century.
Zeffin Quinn Hollis, who previously played the villain Scarpia in last May’s Tosca, inhabited the role of the beleaguered Sweeney Todd with relish and abandon, imbuing the eponymous vengeful barber with added layers of both depravity and humanity. Hollis’ rich baritone reverberated across the theatre, booming with bravado, quivering with the barely contained rage of a man who’s lost everything to one far richer and more powerful than he. Brandishing a straight razor, Hollis’ Sweeney, complete with bushy muttonchops and brooding demeanor, dispatches his customers with an eerie ease, practicing his fatal shaves in anticipation of slaying Judge Turpin (Philip Skinner), the man who had him falsely imprisoned 15 years previous, in order to have his way with Todd’s wife Lucy (Molly Mahoney), and later, his daughter Johanna (Camille Jasensky).
The supporting cast own their respective roles as well, especially Margaret Gawrysiak as Mrs. Lovett, Todd’s landlady and partner-in-crime. Her mezzo-soprano vocals soar with her every emotion, whether she’s imagining a coastal life of wedded bliss with Sweeney or cooking up plans, literally, to incorporate Todd’s victims into her meat pies. Philip Skinner as Judge Turpin wrestles with his character’s demons candlelit and shirtless in a timbering bass-baritone, as he battles his lust for the teenaged Johanna, who is his ward. He selfishly resolves to marry her himself, and, in a disturbing twist, ends the sequence lowering an unconscious Johanna to the floor as the lights go out. Soprano Jasensky and baritone David Castillo bring a fervent sweetness to their star-crossed lovers Johanna and Anthony, a recently docked sailor who saved Sweeney Todd’s life while at sea. Tenor Timur as rival barber Adolfo Pirelli, tenor Robert Norman as his hapless assistant Tobias Ragg, and tenor Jon Keenan as Judge Turpin’s sidekick Beadle Bamford, round out the talented cast.
Fresno Grand Opera’s Sweeney Todd plumbs the murky depths of a broken man’s soul and the grisly lengths to which he’ll go to avenge himself of foes both real and imaginary. And anchored by Hollis’ deeply felt performance, “Todd” is a macabre tour-de-force.
For more information on the Fresno Grand Opera’s current season, please visit: www.fresnograndopera.org. There are many more great shows coming up!