“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at A Noise Within – reviewed

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd is my favorite musical. Its combination of a beautiful score, clever lyrics and unusually gruesome subject matter is sui generis. When it’s firing on all cylinders, there’s little in the annals of musical theatre to top its sheer power. And yet it’s a difficult show to get just right – its level of complexity and challenge is high. Over the years I’ve seen several versions of the show that have their moments but don’t quite come together. Sadly, the current revival of Todd at A Noise Within falls into this category due to some miscasting and uninspired direction.

In 1846 London, Sweeney Todd (Geoff Elliott) has returned home after fifteen years away, along with new friend, the young sailor Anthony (James Everts). Todd seeks vengeance after being transported for life by the evil Judge Turpin (Jeremy Rabb), a tragedy which he believes led to the death of his wife and separated him from his daughter Johanna (Joanna A. Jones). To this end he partners with pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett (Cassandra Marie Murphy) and starts a barber shop to lure the Judge in for an imminent execution. In building up to that big event, he slaughters many customers, whose remains make for delicious pies. But as Sweeney swings his razor wide, unintended consequences will make his revenge a bitter one.

Production photos by Craig Schwartz.

Eliott is a fantastic actor who, over the past few decades, has delivered great performances in more shows than I can name, but unfortunately he’s miscast as Sweeney. His interpretation is more glum than frightening, less maniacal than moderately irritated. In terms of his singing, his choice of combining his deepest bass range and a broad British accent comes off as somewhat stilted. Murphy is terrific as Mrs. Lovett, hitting the right balance of comedy and horror, delivering strong renditions of “A Little Priest” and “By the Sea.” Everts and Jones are in excellent voice as the young lovers Anthony and Johanna, respectively, although Rabb seems more of a peevish middle manager than a monstrous pervert as the judge. Kasey Mahaffy is quite good as rival barber Pirelli, and Josey Montana McCoy does a nice rendition of “Not While I’m Around” as the mistreated young Tobias.

Julia Rodriguez-Elliott is usually a masterful director, but this production seems like an odd misfire. A couple of her directorial ideas work, including using ladders to represent ships, but more don’t succeed, such as starting the show looking at the cast in theater seats of their own or using a shroud of underlit parachute silk to represent Sweeney’s patrons getting their throats cut. One strange thing is that the volume of the show seemed low even though it was miked, and this combined with a few underwhelming performances kept the production from reaching the Gothic heights it needs to find its full potential.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is presented by and at A Noise Within and plays through March 17, 2024. Tickets are available online here.

Production photos by Craig Schwartz.

Terry Morgan


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