Alexandria, VA – Set in the darkest environs of London, we find Sweeney Todd just released from prison and plunged into a life of murder and mayhem, a topic popular with virtuous Victorians and their high-minded devotion to morality and manners. Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street provides us with a singularly depraved and vengeful killer, a man “who would blink and rats would scuttle” as he “served a dark and vengeful god,” underpinned by the intelligent beauty of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant score with book by Hugh Wheeler.
Columns of screeching steam announce the opening scene as the characters enter from the aisles. We hear the plaintively beautiful operatic voice of the Beggar Woman (Rayanne Gonzalez) as she portends the evils that await. We meet handsome, young Anthony Hope (note the surname) (Paul Scanlan), a sailor who saved Sweeney’s life in a shipwreck and who arrives in London to find Todd and ask for a favor in return.
Mrs. Lovett (Bryonha Marie), an ambitious and wily widow with a failing meat pie shop and soon to become the lover and murderous accomplice of Sweeney (Nathaniel Stampley), appears in her establishment bemoaning the high price of meat while noting how all the neighbor’s cats have disappeared.
They soon strike up an unusual and diabolical alliance and, in a stroke of business genius, Mrs. Lovett (note the surname) provides Todd with a tonsorial parlor above her shop where they gleefully combine the two disparate businesses. “Think of it as thrift,” she chirps ominously.
The musical is a tale of love, loss, and revenge merrily served up in all its carnivorous glory with a spot of tea and a stiff upper lip. A grisly horror story dripping with blood and British humor and some of the most notably creative of Sondheim’s music and lyrics. And, not to worry, my pet, it also gifts us with an acerbic side-eye and biting gallows humor.
As for our leads, Marie and Stampley, there could not be a more perfect casting of these two actors who both support and contrast each other. Stampley portrays a gloomy figure of a man who stalks and broods in tenor splendor and conveys all the evil in the wider world. He is matched only by the broad expressiveness, charm, and magical vocals of Bryonha Marie. They are superb together.
Scenic Designer Mikiko Suzuki Macadams reflects London’s gritty underbelly with the dark and dirty greys of its 19th-century warehouse district complementing Costume Designer Robert Perdziola’s vision of ladies in muted grey dresses – save for our heroine Johanna who is a vision in white linen. Director Sarna Lapine creates a scene of constantly swirling dramatic intrigue and a clever concept to mimic the appearance of blood (of which there is much) using thin, red streamers to palatably capture the mendacity afoot.
Of particular note are performances by Katie Mariko Murray, who plays sweet, innocent Johanna, Todd’s long-lost daughter; Harrison Smith as Tobias Ragg, the couple’s wide-eyed hapless assistant; John Leslie Wolfe as the libidinous Judge Turpin, who keeps Joanna in an actual birdcage; Christopher Michael Richardson as The Beadle; and Ian McEuen as Pirelli, Todd’s Italian challenger to the title of best barber.
Choreographed by Alison Solomon and conducted by Jon Kabfleisch commanding a 15-piece orchestra for the full-on experience.
With an ensemble to include Benjamin Lurye, Jimmy Mavrikes, Bob McDonald, Adelina Mitchell (doubling as Dance Captain), Crystal Mosser, Lawrence Redmond (doubling as Fight Captain), Katherine Riddle, Sarah Anne Sillers, and Chani Wereley.
Through July 9 at Signature Theatre in Shirlington Village, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information, visit www.SigTheatre.org or call the box office at 703 820-9771.