A Rewarding Production of "Sweeney Todd"

Since “ Sweeney Todd” premiere in 1979, I have seen this Stephen Sondheim’s dark masterpiece everywhere from New York to London’s Covent Garden to the National Touring Company in Los Angeles. I even saw a full scale production at the Portland Opera Company starring Karen Moore as Mrs. Lovett.

This marks the first time I have seen “Sweeney Todd” by a smaller semiprofessional company. It took a lot of moxie for the Ray of Light to present Sondheim’s masterwork. On the whole this company does justice to one of my most favorite musicals (opera???) of all time. However director Ben Randle decided not to mike the singers and sometimes the orchestra overpowered some of singers. Eureka Theatre which is a former movie house is not the best theatre in this area for acoustics and it would have been better if some of the singers were mike. I can’t fault the singers since they all had good voices but it was the lack of a good sound system in this theatre that is the problem. However production values were excellent including the “factory like” set and great choral work from the large cast.
The performances are as bold and striking as the concept. Adam Scott Campbell as the anti-hero Sweeney Todd with his commanding voice creates compassion and revulsion and his singing range has range and touching beauty.

Shelley Crowley going by the stage name Miss Sheldra as the doting accomplice, Mrs. Lovett has a beautiful voice who she reminds me of a young Angela Lansbury both in voice and acting. Instead of a ferocious comic caricature of a rapacious shopkeeper, she is more conventional, self-deluded woman with a streak of genuine sensitivity. Matthew Provencal and Jessica Smith as the lyrical sailor Anthony Hope and Sweeney’s imprisoned daughter Johanna have fine voices in “Johanna” and “Ah, Miss”. Both have fine voices but their stage encounters are awkward and rushed.

Michelle Jasso as the Beggar Woman is outstanding and her powerhouse voice is seriously executed. Kevin Singer does a wholehearted portrayal of Tobias and he particularly shines in the song “Not While I’m Around”. Ken Brill as Judge Turpin imbues the role with just the right air of unethical self-righteousness. Both he and Adam Scott Campbell are harmoniously energizing singing “Pretty Women”. J. Conrad Frank puts a completely different spin as Beadle as a more elegant police officer than a crude person with no class. He is charming sings the old English song about the bells of churches. Terrence Mclaughlin voice rings out as Pirelli in “The Contest”.

The complete chorus which includes Gina Di Rado, Mia F.Gimenez, Charles Woodson Parker and Velvet Piini have great thematic resonance singing the Prologue, The Ballet of Sweeney Todd, City on Fire and “The Letter”.

Director Ben Randle has five members of the orchestra with Sean Forte conduction on the piano, Robert Moreno on keys and percussion, Lucas Gayda on violin, Bill Aron on reeds and Zach Taylor on bass are spread about the stage. The orchestra heightens the ferocious shifts of tone in Sondheim’s masterly music. This ability constantly unnerve the audience throughout the evening from Sweeney’s chilling Epiphany to the cheerfully waltz tune of “A Little Priest”. Maya Linke’s factory like set creates a vivid sense of urban deficiency and deterioration. Cathie Anderson’s lighting adds to spookiness of the musical. (every time Sweeney commits a killing the stage lights turn red) Miriam Lewis costumes are authentic for the period.

Sweeney Todd runs through August 18th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Gateway, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-690-7658 or on line at www.roltheatre.com