Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 15, 2008

Sweeney Todd

The Bushnell, Hartford
through Oct. 15, 2008
By Meghan Lynn Allen

Ominous from the start, The Bushnell lives up to the gory task of bringing Sondheim’s musical tale of revenge to life, or rather, to death. It begins abruptly with Tobias (the insanely talented Chris Marchant) in a dim pool of light bound and gagged, setting the tone of the bleakness and bizarre. As Tobias softly and eerily utters the first few notes into the starkness, we are instantly drawn into Sweeney’s world. Supported by Musical Director/Conductor David Fiorello, the cast succeeds in the spectacle that is Sweeney Todd.

The production gives a fresh take on the performance you may remember from 1979’s original Broadway cast. There is no orchestra pit. Watch in awe as cast members double as musicians, playing multiple instruments on stage. Pirelli (Ruthie Ann Miles) impresses with her talent on flute, keyboard, and accordion. Beggar Woman (Patty Lohr) provides a brilliant, disturbing performance plays an outstanding clarinet. There is another huge difference: minimalism. A hat depicts a dead body, a plate represents an entire pie shop, a bucket of blood symbolizes a murder. Jarring at first, you are soon charmed by this clever construction. This production also pushes the boundaries of the audience imagination with non-traditional casting such as a raven-haired Johanna (the hauntingly sweet Wendy Muir) and a female Pirelli (the diminutive but fiery Miles).

Even Sweeney Todd (Merritt David Janes) is not what you might expect. At first glance, he seems not maniacal and unkempt, but handsome and strong, though obviously darkly living in misery. Janes shrewdly reveals the madness that is Sweeney Todd one little piece at a time. Mrs. Lovett (Carrie Cimma) breathes life into an atmosphere of death, providing comic relief that the audience desperately needs. In addition to her magnificent voice, amusing antics, and delightful sense of comic timing, she plays the tuba, orchestra bells, and percussion throughout the show. The audience is in for a sweet treat when Cimma and Marchant tenderly come together in “Not While I’m Around.”

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a true ensemble piece that will repulse and thrill.