Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 25, 2010

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through July 17, 2010
by Karolina Sadowicz

The tale of the murderous, vengeful barber Sweeney Todd has been thrilling audiences for over 30 years with black humor and merciless wit, and has yet to lose its edge. Barrington Stage Company's production is a razor sharp presentation of the dark classic.

After years of imprisonment and other trials, a mysterious man returns to Victorian London and assumes the name of Sweeney Todd (Jeff McCarthy), opening a humble barbershop above Mrs. Lovett's (Harriet Harris of "Frasier" and "Desperate Housewives") pie shop. There, he begins plotting his revenge against the sinister Judge Turpin (Ed Dixon) and impulsively kills a rival barber, setting off a bloody spree and inadvertently and repulsively growing Mrs. Lovett's meat pie business.

McCarthy's Sweeney Todd is more vengeful and angry than brooding, fiercely expressive in his anguish and reluctant to show restraint. Never remotely amiable, he is hardly concerned about winning over other people, even the audience, but it works. His cool response to Mrs. Lovett's increasingly desperate affections provides some comic relief in a story that grows more somber and violent.

Charmingly creaky Harris plays Mrs. Lovett as a bawdy, hilariously immoral pragmatist with a secret longing, committing and accepting all kinds of monstrosities to get what she wants. Despite her own dark secrets about Sweeney Todd's previous life, she deftly mixes both sour and sweet, and is a highlight of the show.

A chartreuse-suited Pirelli played by Branch Woodman is an unabashed scene stealer and a delightful foil to Sweeney. The young sailor Antony (Shonn Wiley) and Johanna (Sarah Stevens), Sweeney's daughter, both offer beautiful singing performances and inject hopeful innocence into a world that seems as polluted as Sweeney believes it is. Christianne Tisdale brings unexpected laughs and tragic peaks in her portrayal of the mad beggar woman.

The play is superbly produced, with efficient and appropriately grimy setting, and outstanding sound production that showcases the considerable talent and discipline of the entire ensemble. It's an exciting production that blends laughs, madness, and even a little fear.