Saturday, October 7, 2017

SWEENEY TODD




Book by Hugh Wheeler
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Richard Block
Musical director: Leonard Weiss
Dramatic Productions
Gungahlin College Theatre to 21 October

Reviewed by Len Power 6 October 2017

Arguably Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpiece, ‘Sweeney Todd’ was first produced on Broadway in 1979.  Dramatic Productions’ new show is uneven but there is still a lot to enjoy.

Based on the 1973 play of the same name by Christopher Bond, it’s a dark tale of obsession and revenge in 19th century London with several murders and a mutually beneficial relationship between the killer, Sweeney Todd, and a pie shop owner, Mrs Lovett.

Richard Block, the director, has cast the show with strong singers.  David Pearson gives a fine singing and acting performance as the obsessed barber, Sweeney Todd’.  Meaghan Stewart, while far too young for the role of Mrs Lovett, nevertheless gives a winning singing and acting performance.

There is also strong work from other cast members in leading roles, especially Max Gambale, Liam Jackson and Joseph McGrail-Bateup.  Demi Smith as the young heroine, Johanna Barker, sings well but her diction needs to be clearer in her dialogue scenes.  Lachlan Agett as the young sailor, Anthony Hope, struggled with the singing demands of his role on opening night.

There is a lack of atmosphere in this production with little sense of a 19th century London hell-hole which the music describes.  The cast are mostly too young and healthy looking.  David Pearson’s makeup captures the right look but it’s not carried through to the rest of the cast.  Makeup could have helped to age certain cast members to make them look more convincing in their characters.  The set, designed by Thompson Quan Wing, doesn’t convince as a 19th century London locale and has practical issues affecting the flow of the production.

Musical direction by Leonard Weiss is superb.  This is a massive score that is very demanding of musicians but the orchestra gave it all the colour and drama it required.

The strengths of this production are in the music and the singing.  In spite of its other flaws, the opportunity to experience this extraordinary musical live on stage shouldn’t be missed.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

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