Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim. Book: Hugh Wheeler from an adaptation by Christopher Bond. Toowoomba Chorale Society. Director: Mary Quade. Musical Director: Shane Tooley. Choreographer: Daniel Erbacher. Empire Theatre, Toowoomba. 1-3 September 2017

This was the first production I have ever seen of Sweeney Todd where there has been an absence of blood. Yes, there was the high-pitched orchestral whistle-scream at every grisly murder and an image splashed on a window but no actual fake red blood anywhere. Even at the finale when Tobias cuts Sweeney’s throat there was nothing oozing from the slash. It was one of the features of Mary Quade’s highly-stylised production of Stephen Sondheim’s take on the 1840s melodrama of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Daniel Erbacher’s choreography was also a distinctive plus with his use of synchronised arm movement for the chorus whether they be beggars, toffs or insane-asylum inmates. With a many-levelled grimy staircase set by Madeleine Barlow, attention-grabbing period costumes by Debra Nairn, Dickensian London has never looked so frightening or so evil.

Performance-wise the show could have been called the Mrs Lovett Show with top acting honours going to Vicki Bravery as the venal pie-maker, finding comedy in the macabre and pathos in her affection for her razor-slashing partner in crime. Their “A Little Priest” was black-comedy at its finest.

Kyle Dever’s sonorous tones were a perfect fit for Sweeney with act-one’s “Epiphany,” when he holds his razor high and proclaims “at last my right arm is complete again,” a chilling moment.

Young sixteen-year-old Gabe Tiller was a credible Tobias. Although his voice is still developing, he’s a performer who already knows how to command a stage and has a bright future ahead of him.

Key-supporting players included Catherine Carter as a feral beggar-woman, Jon Maskell as the sadomasochistic Judge, and Joel Philippe as the opportunistic Beadle. Shannon Gralow and Justin Tamblyn as the young lovers Joanna and Anthony sang well even if their characters appear to be marking-time in the plot, in essence a fault of the writing. (Sondheim’s forte is not writing purity and innocence unless he’s sending it up as in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum ).

Even though Quade’s direction was bold, at times it was bewildering. Why stage Judge Turpin’s flagellation scene in a part of the set where nobody could see it? But the lighting (Ben Hunt) and musical direction (Shane Tooley) were excellent.

Sweeney Todd is Sondheim’s masterpiece, equally at home on an opera stage as in musical theatre; its dark, unforgiving take on humanity’s naked soul is always a challenge for any community theatre group. Toowoomba Chorale’s production more than earned its stripes.

Peter Pinne

To keep up with the latest news and reviews at Stage Whispers, click here to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.