Sweeney Todd has been redeemed!—No, not the travesty of a movie. It’s still a piece of shit. Over the weekend, as part of my birthday (February 6, for those taking notes), my best friend got tickets for the touring production of Sweeney, which is in Chicago for a brief (way too brief) time. Additionally, the universe showed me some kindness, and by a fluke I was able to see it on Tuesday night as well. I responded to an ad on CL. This guy had a friend back out on him, and he had an extra . I didn’t even have to pay for the ticket. Blind date, great show, nice guy. For both performances we were in the orchestra level at the theatre.
When the revival opened on Broadway two years ago, I was really bummed that I was not able to see it. (This doesn’t qualify as a regret—see previous post—as it’s not that I had an opportunity to see it and passed on it, I just was unable due to circumstances and finances to get to NYC to see it. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how the actors were also the orchestra. How the heck would/could this work?! I did get to NYC last summer and saw Company, which was done in the same manner (same director) and I got an idea, but these plays are so different, I still couldn’t see how this would work with ST.
With the exception of the leads, most of the Broadway cast (or understudies/standbys) are in the touring production. The character of Tobias (Toby) is also an exception. Edmund
Bagnell, the young man (as opposed to a prepubescent boy in the POS movie) who plays him is EXCEPTIONAL. In my opinion, he stole the show. Instrumentally, he played the violin, and clarinet. All of the characters are on stage the whole time, even when he was not in a scene, he was so totally in character. His facial expressions were incredible. He conveyed so much with his eyes, even from the middle of the orchestra section, he was that expressive. He would get this wonderful maniacal look, and even his violin playing looked maniacal at crucial times. He made the violin a character in the show. Vocally, instrumentally, and theatrically, he was sublime.
It was great to hear Sweeney and Judge Turpin singing in those booming, menacing baritone/bass voices, as Sweeney should be. The “Pretty Women” duets were bravissimo! While vocally, Johnny Depp didn’t completely suck (like HB-C did as Mrs. Lovett), a tenor Sweeney just doesn’t evoke the same sense of foreboding that that a deep bass singing Sweeney does. Benjamin Eakeley, who played The Beadle, and instrumentally played keyboard, clarinet and saxophone, gave a very subdued, yet strong, nuanced performance. He played a slick, smooth operating political sycophant, not some greasy snaggle-toothed street bum.
The performance that was not exceptional, and let me state, she was not bad was Johanna. But her star was less bright in this galaxy of comets and supernovas. Vocally and instrumentally, she shone with the rest. I felt though, that she ‘dumbed down’ the character of Johanna to a caricature, being a bit too ditzy, as though being placed in the lunatic asylum may have been the right choice. Also, I didn’t think that she stayed in character when she was playing cello, but not singing. I’m not sure why a woman was cast as Pirelli, the Barber. That didn’t really work for me. This actress did an OK job, but I would rather see that role play by a man with at tenor voice, not a female alto.
Casting this show had to be a nightmare. The instrumental assignments were not random. Toby HAD to be able play the violin. Mrs. Lovett had to be able to play the tuba. Not only did Benjamin Magnuson, who plays Antony have to be able to sing the role, and act it, but also be able to play, cello and keyboard. Finding the right person for each character who also played the instruments assigned to that character. Then there are the Understudies and Standbys, who are US & SB for multiple characters. It blows my mind. Sondheim writes difficult music to sing. But the music is integral to the character and character development. The music is just as important as the words that are attached to the notes. That’s why I can’t understand why he let the movie be done with sub-par (shitty) singers. (I won’t call them musicians). OK, so you want big name actors to be the box office draw. There are plenty of A listers who can sing well. Cast them. But I digress. If this touring production comes to close to you, go see it! ©wtf/rle