DRAPER — With Halloween right around the corner, even the tale of a barber who loves his family and a woman who runs a pie shop can be quite sinister. Lamplight Theatre Company and the Draper Historic Theatre invite all to attend the tale of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, under the direction of Ashley Ramsey.
The plot is clear straight from the opening number. “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” Sweeney Todd isn’t an innocent hair stylist but rather “the demon barber of Fleet street.” Once known as Benjamin Barker, he returns to London under the pseudonym of “Sweeney Todd” seeking vengeance on Judge Turpin, the villainous man who raped Sweeney’s wife, sent Sweeney away for false crimes, and stole Sweeney’s daughter. Sweeney meets Mrs. Lovett, the baker of truly horrible meat pies, upon arrival back to London. She lets Sweeney re-open his barber shop above her store, and they work together to profit off of Sweeney’s murderous thirst for revenge.
Anne Considine-Olsen as Mrs. Lovett is an absolute stand out in this play. Playing Mrs. Lovett with brilliant comedic timing, Considine-Olsen commanded my attention with her superb voice, acting, and physicality that filled the stage. At times Considine-Olsen as Mrs. Lovett was generous and sensitive, like in her interactions with the lonely and sweet Tobias (Jace Christensen), who is just looking for a home. Other times, Mrs. Lovett is delirious with murderous glee as she celebrates with Sweeney and his killings in the song, “A Little Priest.” The Mrs. Lovett character’s brilliance is due in part to Sondheim’s storytelling and Ramsey’s direction, but in the hands of a less skilled performer, this comedic villain could’ve turned into a caricature. Considine-Olsen’s performance lifted the character off the page into one I was rooting for even in her crimes.
Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd, played by Parker Rawlins, are an unlikely pair with Mrs. Lovett being perfectly bubbly and chipper in the making of her murderous pies and with Sweeney Todd as the cruel, dark, and brooding type that I would expect to be capable of murder. But together, the characters balance each other perfectly adding both horror and much needed comic relief.
Rawlins portrayed Sweeney with a broad range of manic emotions as Sweeney sprinted through his killing spree. However, I was actually more disturbed Judge Turpin, played by Josh Bone. Sweeney killing people who come into his shop seemed fantastical and backed by a love for his family whereas Judge Turpin’s inappropriate romantic fascination with Joanna, the daughter of Sweeney and Turpin’s adopted daughter, appeared purely animalistic and was a crime that I could realistically see happening today.
Overall, the entire ensemble was a strong group, performing together as one to support the focal points of the story and creating a clear world where Fleet street existed. But throughout the production, certain technical elements distracted from the overall performance. Lighting is an element that often isn’t noticed when it is succeeding, but is glaringly obvious when lacking. For this production, the lights, designed by Jeremy Heaps, were constantly changing color and position to create a dynamic and dramatic mood on stage, even with the minimal set. At times it was a little distracting, and sometimes even shadowed the actors. While Rawlins as Sweeney was tenderly singing the song, “My Friends,” after Mrs. Lovett gave him back his razors, Rawlins kept on slipping in and out of shadows so the subtleties of his actions in this tender ballad were lost.
Even with its weaker moments, Sondheim’s story still rang strong and kept me entertained through to the end. The show does contain a few curse words, a scene that insinuates a character being raped, and blood, so the show might not be appropriate for younger audience members. But if you’re looking for a spooky tale as the days get shorter, I’d recommend this chilling production of Sweeney Todd.