With Halloween rapidly approaching, it’s only fitting that What A Do Theatre in Springfield, Mich. is performing Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s creepy classic, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Jeff Steirle stars as Sweeney Todd, who, after 15 years of prison time, heads back home to London. On the way back, he is rescued at sea by a sailor named Anthony Hope (Marcus Huxtable Jordan). When they arrive on Fleet Street, they meet a crazy beggar woman (Betsy King), who tries to solicit herself sexually to both Todd and Anthony.
Todd goes into a meat pie shop owned by Mrs. Nellie Lovett (Ashlyn Nicole Shawver). He asks about the upstairs apartment in the shop and Mrs. Lovett tells him about the person who lived up there before, a man named Benjamin Barker, who was framed for a crime by Judge Turpin (Nicolas W. Mumma) and his friend Beadle Bamford (Phillip M. McLellan). The judge then took Benjamin’s wife, Lucy, and raped her. Todd reveals that he is Benjamin Barker, and is going to get revenge on them both. Mrs. Lovett tells Todd that Lucy poisoned herself and that Todd’s daughter became a ward of the judge.
Meanwhile, Anthony is walking by the judge’s house in London, and falls in love with a young girl living in the judge’s home named Johanna (Megan Jacobson), not knowing that Johanna is Todd’s daughter. The judge chases him away, eventually revealing his intention to marry Johanna. While this goes on, barber Adolfo Pirelli (Max Wardlaw) and his assistant Tobias Ragg (Avery Beck) are trying to sell a cure for hair loss when Todd and Mrs. Lovett arrive. Todd tells everyone that the cure is a hoax, and challenges Pirelli to a shaving competition and a tooth pulling competition. After the Beadle declares Todd the winner, Todd invites the Beadle for a complimentary shave. Things get crazy from that point, as Todd’s thirst for revenge turns into a blood lust.
The cast here is absolutely astounding and the vocal harmonies incredible. It should be expected, however, when Mrs. Lovett is played by a 2012 Wilde Award Nominee for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical. The ensemble cast of Sarah Gillette, Elena Hensel, Lynda Wolfsberger Hensel, Lizz Mathews, Robert Dozzi, Rudy Guana, and Scott Whitesell do an amazing job at playing many different characters, singing their plethora of harmonies…and creeping out the audience.
The music itself is also phenomenal. Musical Director Brent Decker keeps everything moving with his orchestra, comprised of himself, Maggie Meineke, Marissa Calderone, Taylor Crow, Jon Moody, Mira Shifrin, Henning Schroeder, Adam Noaeill, Ayako Nakamura, Ben Hayward, Caitlin Miekstyn and Chris Guthrie.
Ted Hatton’s lighting and technical design adds rich imagery to the showcase. At one point, the lights make the judge look almost like Satan. The costumes and props only add to that atmosphere, thanks to Nancy King and Thomas Koehler’s rich and authentic work. Zach Thompson did the stage combat choreography and special effects, and both were done to perfection.
Set designer Joshua Olgine built a beautiful and functional set, complete with rotating buildings and a trap door. The extra background noises fit perfectly with what was going on in the show. Sound designer John Purchase only adds to the musical tapestry. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew (stage managers Brittany Slater and Justin Michael Dietzel, master electrician Cory Kalkowski, light-and-sound operator Wade King, and set paint designer Madeleine Rae Gibson) all should be commended for their efforts.
Overall, director Randy Wolfe should be proud of this production of “Sweeney Todd.” The show is an excellent piece of art that captures the emotions of love, hatred, regret and anger, all to their fullest extent. Furthermore, the intended creepiness factor worked very well in all facets of the production, from the set design to makeup and was only added to by the current season.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” can be seen at What A Do Theatre in Springfield, MI on Oct. 31 at 8 p.m., (with a discounted ticket price for costumed patrons) Nov. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 8 p.m. (with an added 3 p.m. matinee performance on the 10th) and a “Pay What You Can” performance (with a minimum of $5) at 8 p.m. on Nov. 8. Regularly priced tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the What A Do box office, online at www.whatado.org or by calling 269-282-1953.