by Lorie Lewis Ham
If you are looking for a shave and haircut I wouldn’t recommend the barber Sweeney Todd, but if you are looking to see a good musical, I do recommend you going to see Sweeney Todd the musical now on stage at the Reedley Opera House.
Reedley’s River City Theatre Co. has been stepping things up a notch the past couple of years, bringing darker edgier musicals to the Opera House stage such as Les Miserables, and now Sweeney Todd. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is a musical thriller with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Set in 19th century England, it tells the story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years at a penal colony on trumped up charges. His one and only goal is to take revenge on the judge (Judge Turpin) who banished him so he could have Todd’s wife. Todd pairs up with a local pie shop owner, Mrs. Lovett, and as Todd’s obsession for revenge brings him to kill others as well, the pair come up with shall we say a very unconventional way of getting rid of the bodies.
While obviously VERY dark, the show also has its comedic and sweet moments. In the day where TV shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards are all the rage, this musical fits in perfectly with an anti-hero as the main character. The music is at times beautiful, and at times dark and menacing in a way only Sondheim can do. And as is the case with all Sondheim musicals, the music is complicated and takes a lot of work to pull off and is a lot for a small community theatre to take on, yet RCTC manages to do it well.
Mark Norwood, RCTC’s creative director, takes on the role of Sweeney giving us a dark, troubled and at times very sad villain/hero. Through most of the show he plays the roll in a solemn, non emotional state, with glimpses now and then of an almost frightening, twisted smile, and at times bursts of anger that gives you chills. Berit Rhodes plays the somewhat silly, obviously twisted as well, Mrs. Lovett who loves Sweeney and decides to help him in any way she can no matter the cost. She provides the show with most of its twisted humor–especially in one of my favorite songs, “A Little Priest,” that she performs with Mark. Berit, whom I’ve never seen in such a large role, often steals the show and does an amazing job!
Joseph Ham plays the street kid Tobias who Lovett takes under her arm. The character is just a bit naive and for much of the show has no idea what is going on under his nose. While I may be prejudice as Joseph is my son, he did an amazing job with the role and the songs. Another of my favorites is one a song that Toby sings with Mrs. Lovett, “Not While I’m Around.” It’s one of the few truly sweet and beautiful songs of the show.
In the midst of the madness is Todd’s daughter Johanna and a young sailor named Anthony, who falls in love with her. She has been living under the thumb of the judge since Todd’s departure, and the judge has very evil designs on her. Meg Clark plays the sweet and innocent Johanna. Jonathan Wheeler plays Anthony. They both have lovely voices and provide the show with some sweet breaks from the darkness.
Filling out the rest of the cast are RCTC veteran Taniman Clark as Judge Turpin, RCTC newbie Marcus Cardenas as the judge’s sinister henchman Beadle Bamford, Bryan Beckstrand as Phineas Fogg, and Mike Westpy (who played Jean Val Jean in RCTC’s Les Miserables) who lends his beautiful big voice to the role of Adolpho Pirelli.
One thing you can always count on with RCTC shows are strong full cast and ensemble numbers–which there are several of in Sweeney Todd, including the opening and closing renditions of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” While the tons of words Sondheim often packs into one song, and the fact there are times when there are multiple lyrics going on all at the same time in these numbers, can sometimes make some of it a little hard to catch everything–overall they do a really good job. The numbers sound amazing.
If you enjoy a darker, edgier type of musical, then don’t miss Sweeney Todd, on stage at the Reedley Opera House through March 29. The cast does a really good job, with a very difficult show and you won’t be disappointed! Oh and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what a great job was done with Sweeney’s Barber chair! Tickets can be purchased on their website, and more info can also be found on KRL’s theatre event page.
Check out more local arts and entertainment articles in KRL’s A & E section.