Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Today's theater experience was "Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at the Olney Theatre Center. And not having much of idea of what to expect--it was very.....interesting. I knew that the barber dispatched his customers and that his landlady made of them pies. But that was all I knew--and so was pleasantly enjoined to see the fuller tale unravel. The cast was delightful from top to bottom, with a wonderful performance by E. Faye Butler as Mrs. Lovett (having just recently seen her in Arena Stage's "Carousel" as Mrs. Mullin). She has a wonderful stage presence and voice to match. And while David Benoit's title role of Sweeney Todd was compelling and powerful enough--the roles of Anthony (Jobari Parker-Namdar) and Tobias (Michael J. Mainwaring) were the other stand-outs by far. Both men brought an energy and authenticity to their performances that kept me on the edge of my seat. And in this instance there is another essential member of the cast that was so well coordinated and choreographed that it must also be given a good word--the ensemble. Their presence and power made them greater in whole than the sum of their many parts...each of which is clearly a talent in his/her own right. This is, of course, as Sondheim envisioned it, and they rose most admirably to the occasion. Add to this a wonderful pit orchestra and gorgeous sets and you really do have a production worth seeing and then some.
Sweeney Todd (Devid Benoit) and Mrs. Lovett (E. Faye Butler) contemplating the possibilities of their dastardly union.
Tobias (Michael J. Mainwaring) and Mrs. Lovett celebrating their success!
And amazing ensemble top to bottom!
"No One's Gonna Harm You...Not While I'm around"
As fate would have it, this was one of their "chat with the cast" after the matinee shows, and 9 actors came back to the stage to answer questions. 5 held principle roles, but neither Sweeney nor Mrs. Lovett were among them; however both the actors who played Tobias and Anthony along with those who played Judge Turpin (Thomas Adrian Simpson), Beadle Bamford (Rachel Zampelli) and Johanna (Gracie Jones) were present. Four members of the ensemble also returned to participate (Jade Jones, Alan Naylor, Adam Strube and Joseph Torello). One obvious question was to ask Rachel Zampelli about her selection to play the male role of Beadle Bamford (given that she was Evita in last seasons production of the same!) Other questions centered around the difficulties inherent in a Sondheim score and libretto, and the technical aparatus behind the very effective spurting blood! A few questions in and elderly white women asked Jade Jones (an African American member of the ensemble) to recount what was wrong with her pies... AWKWARD! Mildly RACISTS!!! The women had confused Jade with E. Faye Butler. And even after she was graciously corrected, the poor old thing did not understand she'd made a mistake in identity. First chance I got, I shot my hand into the air and asked Joseph Torello what it was like to play the understudy for Sweeney Todd, and like a drowned person's life affirming gasp for air everyone jumped at the chance to move on into new territory. The question also gave other members of the ensemble to share their thoughts about their understudy roles, as well.    

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