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Sweeney Todd!

Sweeney Todd
Neptune Theatre, Halifax
Friday, September 21, 2012 

Neptune Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opened September 11thand runs until October 7th.

Sweeney Todd is rife with dark themes of romantic adversity, bitter vengeance, and cruel irony. The score is challenging. The strong ensemble delivers Sondheim’s terse melodies with confidence, vocal dexterity, and cutting precision. The characters are dark, and the bleak light at the end of the tunnel is a “City on fire!” In the same way that Shakespeare uses comedy, cheek by jowl, with tragedy to release and reset the tension of the plot, Sondheim has written moments into this relentlessly bleak storyline and score that are bitingly funny . . .potentially.

The beggar woman, played by Laura Caswell, breathes her depraved humanity into Sondheim’s wickedly funny lyrics. Her desperate pleas are a frail and pitiful rouse, followed by the uproarious cries of a desperate strumpet, rewarded by a wave of laughter.

Like Caswell, Mark Allan’s young hapless Toby shuffles across that sympathetic tightrope as he chases the “nice big tot of gin” with which Mrs. Lovett tempts him. His delighted innocence is a dramatic irony that makes us chuckle and furrows our brow.

Shelley Simester’s portrayal of the darkly romantic and absurdly pragmatic Mrs. Lovett is central to the success of this production. Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pie Shop anchors the versatile set design at centre stage, just as Simester anchors the action with her moment-by-moment exploration of Lovett’s distorted humanity.

When Mrs. Lovett reunites Sweeney Todd with his silver razors, the barber serenades his “old friends” with menace, “At last, my arm is complete again!” Sondheim’s symbolism is clear, and Shane Carty’s Sweeney Todd is convincing callous. Throughout the production, however, I waited to feel the intense malevolence of those personified razors in Sweeney Todd’s dehumanized hand . . . and I waited.

Carty’s interpretation of the lead role sandwiched the emotional range of the character into a dark and narrow alley. There are wickedly funny and heightened moments in the score that were sidelined physically and emotionally and there are greater depths to be plumbed by contrast. Vocally, however, nothing fell flat in Carty’s powerful basso. And perhaps, singing Sondheim powerfully while managing to hit all your cues and marks on a shifting set is a workout and music enough.

This is a show worth seeing. If you’re going, get your tickets soon. ~ Tina Capalbo

Sweeney Todd until October 7 at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax

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