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REVIEW: Do not miss Sierra Stages’ production of ‘Sweeney Todd’

Hindi Greenberg
Special to Prospector



Christi Colombo as Tobias Ragg (on steps), Trish Adair as Beadle Bamford and ensemble members in the Sierras Stages production of "Sweeney Todd" playing through Aug. 6 at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City. Info and tickets at http://www.sierrastages.org
Photo by David Wong

Sierra Stages has raised the bar once again. If you thought their productions of “Cabaret,” “Chicago” or “The Producers” were amazing, then you have to see their current musical offering of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” It compares favorably to any performance on Broadway — and is far superior to the eponymous movie with Johnny Depp.

“Sweeney Todd” is a thriller, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, based on the 1973 play of the same name by Christopher Bond. It opened on Broadway in 1979, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical, and has since been staged around the world.

Sweeney Todd is a 19th century London barber who is unjustly exiled by a corrupt judge who lusts after the tradesman’s beautiful wife. The judge rapes the wife, then adopts Todd’s daughter. The barber returns, establishes his tonsorium above a meat pie shop, and focuses on literally obtaining his pound of flesh with the assistance of the meat pie shop owner, Mrs. Lovett, whose weak moral sense is quickly compromised by her love of profit and lust for Sweeney.

I have to admit that, initially, I was a bit reluctant to attend this show, based on the dark and violent subject matter. However, Sierra Stages withholds the visible bloodletting, instead delving into the consuming obsession of the main character. And unlike some slasher thrillers, this production avoids a simplistic view of vengeance, instead examining the characters’ emotional and psychological depths, so that Sweeney Todd is understood as a victim as well as a perpetrator.

Sara Noah and Micah Cone as Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd in the Sierras Stages production of "Sweeney Todd" playing through Aug. 6 at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City. Info and tickets at http://www.sierrastages.org.
Photo by David Wong

Although the tale sounds bleak, it is offset by a number of humorous interjections and songs, as when Mrs. Lovett sings “A Little Priest,” which jauntily sets the idea of using human flesh in meat pies to a waltz tune in three-four time. Or the amazingly versatile barber chair and slide used by Todd to dispose of his victims — the audience applauded when it was first demonstrated. Kudos to its designer!

Because less than 20% of the show is spoken (the rest is sung-through), I suggest that if you don’t know the story, you might want to read a synopsis or the libretto so that you don’t miss the story’s nuances.

Everyone in the large cast is exceptional: Micah Cone as the chilling Sweeney Todd, Sara Noah as the conniving Mrs. Lovett, Robert Merchant as the virtuous sailor Anthony; Rebekah Martino as Anthony’s naïve inamorata Johanna, Robert Rossman as the lecherous Judge Turpin, Trish Adair as Turpin’s slimy servant The Beadle, Heidi Grass as the crazed Beggar Woman, Casey Burke as Todd’s competitor Pirelli, and Christi Colombo in an amazing trouser performance as Tobias, the pie shop assistant. The vocal prowess, acting and dancing of the outstanding ensemble were first-rate.

Production values were superb. Robert Rossman used his terrific talents to both direct the production and act in it. Ken Getz, as musical director and conductor, did an exemplary job leading his sizeable band, seated at the back of the stage, in Sondheim’s complicated music. Adding depth to the entirety was the visually fabulous and functional set by Teresa Shea, gorgeous costumes by Paulette Sand-Gilbert, atmospheric lighting by Erin Beatie and Devin Cameron Jewett, and expressive sound by Greg Cameron.

I’ve said this before about select productions, but it definitely needs to be said about “Sweeney Todd” — you must not miss this show! Even the somewhat squeamish — like me — will wildly applaud, as did the appreciative audience on opening night. Performances continue at the Nevada Theater through Aug. 6.

Hindi Greenberg had, years ago, seen a very bloody version of “Sweeney Todd,” starring Angela Lansbury, which gave her the creeps. So, she appreciated Sierra Stages’ decision to withhold the gore so she could focus on the story, music, performances and production values.

Hindi Greenberg


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