SWEENEY TODD

SWEENEY TODD – Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by Hugh Wheeler; Directed, Music Directed, and Choreographed by Tanner Kelly.  Produced by Stagedoor Theatre Company (25797 Conifer Road, Conifer) through June 30.  Tickets available at 303-838-0809 or StageDoorTheatre.org. 

Well, I knew this would be good, but it surpassed even my expectations.  Why did I know it would be good?  First of all, start at the top.  Tanner Kelly has fast become one of my favorite directors.  He takes a creative approach to each new project, infusing it with his own imagination.  His production of ONCE, also for Conifer’s StageDoor Company, was one of my top five best shows of 2023.  Now he brings that same critical eye to SWEENEY TODD to ask, “Can we make this familiar story fresh and original?”  And he just did. 

Spoiler alerts will pop up throughout this discussion.  But no one who isn’t familiar with SWEENEY will be reading it – so it’s OK.  Tanner starts the show with a kind of zombie parade.  A dead-eyed slow-moving cortege from the cast quietly enters the stage area from all directions and moves the set pieces off the stage, clearing it to make room for the large opening number.  As they are retelling the story after it has already happened, Sweeney’s victims return periodically as ghostly presences to do stagehand work and move the story along. 

The fun starts when Sweeney arrives in London on his vengeful mission and discovers Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop in his old neighborhood.  Cooper Kaminsky slides into the role of Sweeney as tho putting on a well worn pair of boots.  Their Sweeney has a realistic sense of humor and a steadfast determination to right the wrong done to him by Judge Turpin.  Cooper allows Sweeney to have a little fun and respond to Mrs. Lovett’s self-deprecating digs at her own “worst pies in London” and later when she schemes to make her pies a little more meaty.  Their reaction (or non-reaction) to her flirting and of plans for their future range between mild amusement and outright dismissal. But they never lose sight of his own vengeful goals for coming back to London of finding his wife and daughter. Nothing gets in the way of that. 

Jessica Sotwick was born to play Mrs. Lovett. Her wicked sense of humor and lush body creates a character who knows what she wants, had little chance of getting it until this man came along, and isn’t afraid to use everything she’s got to make him stay. Jessica’s ability to give new meaning to many of her lines and add her own little appropriate ad libs and physical gestures to move the story along and solidify her relationships with the other characters adds charm to her portrayal of a desperate woman. Yet when her plot begins to unfold, she can sing “Nothing’s gonna harm you” to the gullible Tobias; then turn on a dime and announce, “the kid’s got to be next [in the oven], he knows too much.” Her failure to reveal the truth about Sweeney’s wife proves to be her undoing. But, Lordie, what fun to watch her mind at work every moment she’s on stage. 

Sean Davis’ strong but sweet singing voice as that gullible Tobias created a charming naive character played with great innocence and neediness. The over-confident and arrogant Pirelli is given tall life by Silas Vasquez. The talented Isabelle Duran is literally unrecognizable as the broken Beggar Woman. The dastardly Aaron Paschall and Nicholas Marshall were equally fine as the smarmy villains, Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford. You could almost see them salivate waiting to get their hands on the innocent Joanna. The young lovers, Joanna and Anthony (played by Savannah Vidovatti and Brandon Metoyer) meld their voices in nearly perfect harmony while scheming to free her from the clutches of the Judge.  

This is a script that calls for an inventive stage design to accommodate all its requirements. These technical demands also require a steadfast commitment from the actors that have to go down the chute under the barber’s chair. Sliding into the darkness after you’ve been “killed” and trusting that there’s a soft spot to land and a helping hand to get you on your feet requires an undying trust in your fellow cast and crew members. This cast achieved surprise and perfection with each murder. Congratulations, victims! 

The other technical aspects of the show were also well conceived and carried out. The costumes by Jennifer Middleton were spot on and well-tailored. The lighting design by Jon Weeks contributed to the gloominess of their inner lives and the sunshine of the London streets. Periodically red laser lights flashed across the scene to create an added sense of chaos. And congratulations to Dean Arniotes and Biz Schaugaard for designing a set that not only looks good, but also answers all the questions posed by this script. 

I know you’ve seen SWEENEY several times already and there’s a lot of good theatre in Colorado this month, but if there’s any way possible to fit this excellent production into your schedule, you won’t be sorry. You’ll leave the theatre with “wasn’t that good!” and “Did you see . . . ‘s” on your lips. Maestro Sondheim would be proud of this production! 

A WOW factor of 9!! 

1 thought on “SWEENEY TODD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *