SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

Grade:

“Alright! You sir, you sir, how about a shave?
Come and visit your good friend Sweeney.
You sir, too sir? Welcome to the grave.
—Sweeney Todd

Photo by Marie Lafranque

Usually when you see a crazed man with dark pools for eyes, holding a blade to your face, the natural instinct is to run as far as you can. But, if you are looking for a razor-sharp barber, pardon the pun couldn’t resist, then Sweeney Todd (Jack J. Bennett) is not your man. Benjamin Barker, Sweeney Todd’s real name, would have been the person a man could turn to look fresh and smell so clean. However, Barker’s world was shattered to pieces when his wife Lucy and infant daughter Johanna were kidnapped by that bastard Judge Turpin (M. Hayward Scott makes a perfect antagonist). After Lucy’s rape and “death,” Johanna (Serenity Robb has a beautiful voice) was raised by the corrupt judge as his ward. Meaning, he’s her new daddy. Well, forever lasted until she turned 18 or 19 when she falls in love with the dreamy looking sailor, Anthony Hope (Eric Eberle was charming, the idyllic Prince Charming, ocean blue eyes, stirring smile, excellent manners) who goes AWOL.
Sweeney makes it his mission to deal with the judge who exiled him from his family. Together with Mrs. Lovett (real-life wife Gloria Bennett) and her meat pie business, hatch a plan to get rid of him. Todd also plans to get rid of some other loathsome characters and Mrs. Lovett uses her culinary skills in making her mediocre meat pies into tasty morsels of sheer heaven. She admits that her meat pies aren’t as good as they should be, but when, you haven’t eaten in months even the worst concoction can taste like fine cuisine if you pray hard enough. Sweeney’s story unfolds at an even pace, making sure nothing gets left out. A spectacular, and unexpected ending makes this show great to watch again.

Much, much love goes out to Jack J. Bennett as the titular character. This fine actor made a despicable character into a vulnerable human being. Yes! Sweeney’s angry AF! His family was destroyed by some unfeeling person with gall stones for a heart who wanted what Todd had—a loving family of his own. But, when Sweeney speaks of his beloved Lucy and precious Johanna, his hatred for Turpin soon dissipates. However, that deep-seated bile continues to percolate quickly rising to the top. Mr. Bennett’s partner-in-crime, Ms. Gloria, is feisty and loving towards him, in her own way. With Sweeney’s bodies piling up, her meat pies now have that unique taste that leaves the eaters wanting more. Maybe a little too much, but whatever satisfies a hungry crowd, right? I mean, it’s not like they have to know what makes her pies so meaty and spicy and full of life, or a dead one. Liz Kelly Barone as the Beggar Woman is the key to this production. Her wicked life, dirty, tattered clothes, outrageous wailing and unkempt nails and hair is a visual board to stay away.

Robb was absolutely wonderful to watch and hear. If Grammy-award winning artist Mariah Carey sang opera, she would sound like Robb. Her innocence and sweetness are undeniably refreshing. Jacob Dalton does a wonderful job as the full-of-himself “King of the Barbers,” Adolfo Pirelli, who boasts to have shaven both the King of Naples and the Pope. He comes to town selling his infamous Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir which helps hair grow fast. The walking example is his young tortured assistant Tobias Ragg (Hudson Barone does a great job as the mistreated helper) with his long flowing locks. Todd gives the side eye at this magical potion he surmises is made from “piss and ink.” Probably, smells just as horrible as it sounds!
The “great” Italian barber Pirelli, an Irishman formerly known as Daniel O’Higgins, was Todd’s apprentice as a young man when the latter went by Benjamin Barker. Along with his victimized subordinate Tobias, he challenges Todd to a shaving contest, the winner gets five pounds. As Pirelli/O’Higgins continues to brag how great and wonderful he is, Todd has completed a fine job shaving a contestant. As the braggart reluctantly pays his competitor, he instantly recognizes him as his former boss and tries to extort half his earnings in return in keeping his secret. Guess who quickly is the one of the many to suddenly disappear into Mrs. Lovett’s oven? It’s like Hansel and Gretel with this woman.
Musical director Daniel Koh and director/choreographer Mirai Booth-Ong did a phenomenal job in maintaining Sondheim’s vision of entering into a dark tunnel inside the mind of a tortured mad man. The barber’s life was fine until Turpin came in and destroyed it. It’s easy to say the Todd is evil and should get what he deserves. Yeah, he killed people, but what do you expect when your world gets turned upside down? Retribution is around the corner waiting to be used. How much is enough? Is there a limit in making someone’s life miserable and not pay for it? What’s crazy, at least to me, is doing all this evil and not expecting it to come back at you twice fold. Like the old saying goes, what’s done in the dark will come to light. In this scenario, hell is dissected and is aimed at certain individuals who caused the mayhem. The barber is on the loose and heaven helps who foolishly stands in his way. Now, how about a shave? I know a great barber! Just sayin’!!

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays until Saturday, February 1st. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., Saturday, matinee on Feb. 1st at 2 p.m. playing at Fremont Centre Theatre, located at 1000 Fremont Avenue, corner street is El Centro, in South Pasadena. Free parking available behind the theater. For ticket information log on to www.youngstarstheatre.org/tickets.