Day: October 22, 2008
There have been many, many incarnations of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. From appearing as a cult character in a penny dreadful to singing barber in Stephen Sondheim’s terrific musical, the tale of the demon barber has become one of the most famous legends in history, helped by its incarnations in popular media. The most recent version was a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. IN 2001, John Doyle revived the Demon Barber in a new way: he stripped it down. He lost the most of the settings and replaced it with a wooden floor and back wall; the inside of an insane asylum. He threw away the orchestra and instead had all the actors play the instruments. He removed most of the splattering blood and replaced it with blood in a bucket. Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone as the diabolical couple brought rave reviews and LuPone’s sixth Tony nomination. The play has gone on a national tour, and I attended a performance last night at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, CT. The beginning of the play starts out with a woman in a white jacket, sitting a man with a straight jacket on to a chair. She hand him a violin. The character he is about to play is Tobias. The stripped down aspect of the play is positively brilliant, but then again, Sweeney Todd, no matter how corny his appearance was in the early 1950s, was always brilliant. Bloody brilliant, in fact! The lack of setting gives more to the play; gives it a feeling of more fear. It becomes your worst nightmare, being confined to this small space with these people. The actors are brilliant, with Merrit David Janes as the demon barber, Carrie Cimma as Mrs. Lovett, and Chris Marchant as Tobias. The film is similar and different to the film in a few ways. The emotional impact pacts a wallop, just not as big of a wallop and the end, where the actors resume their parts as inmates. But both experiences, one directly made for the stage, the other for the screen, are exhilarating. It is especially interesting and engrossing to see it performed live, and for those who are not that excited about the blood in Tim Burton’s adaptation, the play is for them. Janes’ Todd is wonderfully dark and his voice is very good. I especially liked Cimma’s Mrs. Lovett, who is one of the funniest Lovett’s of all (except for Patti LuPone). Her voice borders on the extordinary, with notes never too sharp. Of course, Sondheim’s music is the ultimate highlight of the play, with the actors doing a fantastic job performing the music and performing to the music. This is an experience that you will cherish and the movie, play, and music are all fantastic.