Review: ‘Sweeney Todd’

Apr. 25, 2015 | 0 Comments

BY JANE KERNS / Special to the Star-Advertiser

As the chorus sings “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,” we are transported to the dark streets of Victorian London. After 15 years, Benjamin Barker (aka Sweeney Todd) has returned from an unjustified prison term, and is seeking revenge. His foe is the evil judge who sentenced him and abducted his wife and daughter.

24 T8 Sweeney Todd1

‘SWEENEY TODD’

Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre

» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» When: 4 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Tuesday
» Cost: $34-$135
» Info: (866) 448-7849, www.ticketmaster.com

Hawaii Opera Theatre brings a stellar production of Stephen Sondheim’s black comedy “Sweeney Todd” to local audiences. Director Karen Tiller, aided by her superb artistic and technical crews, provides an authentic and sophisticated show.

To quote Sondheim, “Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos,” and there’s plenty of chaos in the tale of Sweeney, the “demon barber of Fleet Street,” who uses his razors to mechanically slash patrons’ throats and supply fresh bodies for his accomplice Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies.

Sondheim’s musical genius and Jonathan Tunick’s brilliant orchestrations bring order to the madness of this Broadway masterpiece (the book is by Hugh Wheeler). The complex structure of the music is filled with leitmotifs, counterpoint, and strains of the Dies Irae. Conductor Adam Turner and the orchestra bring out the colorful underscoring and dramatic harmonies in all their intense glory.

It is thrilling to hear Sondheim’s songs performed by leading opera singers, and the voices in this production are exceptionally strong. The hard-working chorus appears frequently, forwarding the story through the “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and its seven reprises. Minou Lallemand’s dance segments add a clever dimension to various scenes.

Every role is vital to the story, and necessitates strong acting and vocal skills plus plenty of energy and stamina. The two leads, Peter Kendall Clark and Buffy Baggott previously performed their roles together, and are well acquainted with the characters’ psychological obsessions.

Clark portrays a hauntingly tragic antihero and we witness the progression of his mental collapse. In a role that demands nearly continuous singing, one of his many outstanding numbers is the spine-chilling tribute to his razors in “My Friends.”

Baggott plunges into her role as the enigmatic Mrs. Lovett. “The Worst Pies in London” is so comical and “By the Sea” so charming, one may temporarily forget how diabolical her character is.

But Sweeney and Lovett’s duet, “A Little Priest,” describing various professionals being baked into pies, reminds us of the pair’s vengeful thoughts.

Rachel Schutz as Johanna and Jesse Blumberg as Anthony bring much-needed light to the stage as the young lovers. Their glorious lyrical voices are captivating.

Jamie Offenbach delivers a fascinating portrayal of Judge Turpin. Luke Grooms as Beadle is especially enjoyable as he sings at the harmonium, and Michele Sexton demonstrates versatility as the Beggar Woman. Kyle Erdos-Knapp captures hearts as Tobias (“Not While I’m Around” is a standout), and John Easterlin’s rendition of “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” is a real showstopper.

Though the tale is macabre and rather grisly, we are reminded that, in the end, it is just a story, though images of dancing rats may linger.
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Jane Kerns is a doctoral student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, holds degrees in theatre and vocal performance and has performed as an actor and singer in New York City.

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