ST. GEORGE — As the lights dimmed in the Electric Theater in St. George and the cast of the Stage Door’s “Sweeney Todd” started to emerge on stage, backlit and disheveled looking, a disturbing mood settled on the theater. This wasn’t a Disney show I was about to watch.
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,” the cast sang, inviting the audience into the macabre tale of a murderous barber obsessed with revenge.
The tale of “Sweeney Todd: The demon barber of Fleet Street,” is a tale that has its roots in Victorian fiction. The character first appeared in a story which was set in 1785 called “The String of Pearls.” It was published in a weekly magazine in the late 1840s. The story and character were immediately popular and were turned into several plays throughout the 1800s.
In 1973, a melodrama written by Christopher Bond added a broader story arc to Sweeney’s Todd’s character which framed him as a victim of a pious, yet insidious judge who raped Todd’s wife, stole his infant daughter and sent him to prison for life on trumped up charges.
From that story, Stephen Sondheim created the music and lyrics for what would eventually become the musical version which first opened on Broadway in 1979. The musical was later made into a movie starring Johnny Depp in the title role in 2007.
Directed by Josh Scott with musical direction by Jadon Webster, the Stage Door’s production of Sweeney Todd deftly transports the audience into dirty London where the price of meat is high and corruption is found at the very top.
It is there that we meet Sweeney Todd (Tyson Chanticleer) and young sailor Anthony Hope (Coby Oram) who have recently disembarked from a boat after Anthony had rescued Sweeney Todd at sea and befriended him.
The juxtaposition of the young sailor full of hope in a new city and the untrusting barber returning to the home where he lost everything is stark, and both Oram and Chanticleer embody their characters well, setting the stage for how lightness and darkness play with each other in the show.
The production’s transportation into Sweeney Todd’s seething world of madness, murder and mayhem starts with a set design (Scott) which cleverly uses what look like simple wood pallets as a backdrop. The sparse design allows for creative projections and moody lighting to enhance the ambiance of the lurid tale.
Scott also makes full use of the small theater, utilizing the balcony, aisles and the stage to immerse the audience in the story. The effect is such that it creates a deep and slightly unnerving experience.
The Stage Door is known for taking risks, often mounting productions that push the boundaries in St. George, and “Sweeney Todd” certainly takes risks. Audiences unfamiliar with the production can expect scenes of murder, sexual innuendo, some adult language and the desires of an aging man for a young girl. It is uncomfortable. It is supposed to be.
Where Scott as director didn’t take risks is in assembling an astoundingly talented ensemble cast that maneuvers the material in a way that adds wit, humor and depth of characters that would belong on any stage, not just a small community theater.
Of particular note are Oram and Juliet Lorentzen, who plays Anthony Hope’s love interest and Sweeney Todd’s now grown daughter, Johanna, who has been raised as the ward of Judge Turpin (Robert Simmons).
The two young actors brought incredible voices and youthful strength to their performances, filling the stage with palpable and real romance in an otherwise obsession-driven story. Audiences will feel the love and urgency in both the first act’s “Johanna” and “Kiss Me.”
Veteran theater performer Brennan Walters shines in his supporting role as The Beadle. Walters is at once menacing, sycophantic and hilarious, and he does it all with a powerful singing voice and honed acting skills.
As the lead, Chanticleer stepped into a role that seemed tailor made for him. He performs Sweeney Todd with so much passion that the audience surely feels his descent from sympathetic victim to vengeful murderer. On stage, Chanticleer simply oozes the core of Sweeney Todd’s character from his pores. This is evident particularly in the first act’s “My friends” and “Epiphany” and the second act’s reprise of “Johanna.”
The role of Sweeney Todd is double cast with Chanticleer performing in turns with Nate Myers.
Highlighting the production is an absolute stunning performance by Abi Christian as Mrs. Lovett, the widowed pie shop owner whose misguided love for Sweeney Todd coupled with her terrible pies leads her down a morbid path, albeit not without some humor.
Christian’s intricate timing and physical comedy is like watching a magic trick, especially in “A Little Priest” and “God, That’s Good.”
Together Christian and Chanticleer are a force of nature on stage as they turn murdered men into pies for profit.
Though some of the sound effects fall flat – I could have lived without the jarring sound every time a murder occurred – it is clear from nearly every other detail that Scott loves the material he was working with and he crafted a deliciously good production just in time for the Halloween season.
“Sweeney Todd” plays this week Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m., and next week Oct. 5 and Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17-$21 and can be purchased by calling 435-656-4407 or online.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, tickets are limited. Masks are highly encouraged.
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- What: The Stage Door presents “Sweeney Todd.”
- When: Wednesday-Saturday, Sept. 30-Oct. 3, Monday, Oct. 5 and Wednesday Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinee, Oct. 3, 2 p.m.
- Where: The Electric Theater, 68 E. Tabernacle, St. George.
- Cost: $17-$21.
- Purchase tickets: Call 435-656-4407 | Online.
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