Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Director: J.J. Geelen. Musical Director: Derek Walter. The South Coast Choral and Arts Society (SA). Victor Harbor Town Hall. 12-28 May, 2017.

With a superb Phantom-style cathedral organ setting the scene (courtesy of keyboardist Jenny Boag), the talented and always-resourceful team at SCCAS have brought us the ghoulish tale of a vengeful barber on a bloody mission – but those expecting a headlong plunge into Grand Guignol may be surprised.

A deliberate decision has been made to eliminate overt bloodletting from this production, instead conveying the realities of Todd’s vengeance through lighting effects and stylised suggestion. As the show proceeds, its tone settles into something almost resembling placidity. Dramatic moments are, by and large, quietly underplayed.

While this approach can, in the moment, feel like a disappointing departure from convention, it is easier, in hindsight, to respect the director’s intentions in presenting Sweeney Todd this way. The spirit of the show is certainly not betrayed, and those who are unfamiliar with the material are likely to find this production instantly accessible.

Wayne Scotton has a most effective presence in the title role, communicating his complex character in a powerful-yet-understated manner, while feeling no need to overtly ‘act’ the part of a murderer using any kind of stereotyped behaviour. Penny Smith finds an ideal balance between the magnetic and the repellent to play partner-in-crime Mrs Lovett.

This reviewer is inclined to wonder whether the star-crossed, wholesome young couple Anthony & Johanna were deliberately written by Sondheim & Wheeler as lacklustre and unengaging characters, so as to foster an audience’s connection with a pair of twisted, homicidal heroes. Even so, the efforts of performers Andrew Smith and Kiera Turner produce some fine results at times (particularly Johanna’s splendidly sung entrance).

Dylan Rufus does a nicely flamboyant yet un-excessive job in the role of Pirelli, while Jon Grear displays superb comic timing and expression playing Beadle Bamford. Wayne Good’s Judge Turpin is an ideal antagonist, and exudes an unusual level of vulnerability for a villain - particularly when singing - which adds to the texture and intrigue of this production. Alexandria Aubrey’s Beggar Woman provides some memorably bawdy moments, and Jo Kelly’s Tobias grows in strength and confidence with each scene.

The multi-level set (designed by the director) is outstandingly successful and produces many striking effects on stage. Millie Doherty’s costume design is sumptuous without being gaudy. The band achieves a successful balance with the dialogue on stage, supporting the actors and the atmosphere alike. Ensemble singing seems hampered at times by uncertainty, but by the end, all the elements slide into place, producing a thoroughly impressive resolution.

Though it may be a relatively well-behaved Sweeney Todd that is served up here, this in no way diminishes its achievements or the satisfaction that it generates. Musical theatre enthusiasts with open minds can be confident in making the trip to check it out.

Anthony Vawser

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