The cast of SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at KCRep (Photo: Cory Weaver)
By Marissa Carter
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler is a fast-paced and witty musical thriller about a London barber with a desire for revenge and the slowly spreading insanity of everyone he encounters.
Artistic Director Eric Rosen has given us a masterful combination of sight and sound in this production of SWEENEY TODD. The mostly bare stage is dressed with gridwork and steel beams set at odd angles, accented by a packed earth back wall and dimly flickering lanterns. The orchestra sits in full view of the audience, well placed on raised platforms behind the main action. The dim lighting and placement of these talented musicians enhance the overall effect and create a surreal world that easily captures the attention of the audience.
By arranging things this way, Scenic Designer Jack Magaw has expertly captured the dark and gritty nature of London as described in the play, while still allowing for full use of the stage. The entire production flows beautifully. Scene changes are shown through a series of moving platforms and a minimal use of props that enhance the actor’s performances and leave plenty of room for imagination without missing a single detail.
And what performances they are! Tally Sessions plays a disturbingly convincing Sweeney Todd. We get a clear sense of his obsession and motivation as he alternates between eerie stillness and fits of passion. Ellen Harvey is brilliant as Mrs. Lovett. Her perfect timing and quirky mannerisms move the action along and create a lighthearted mood that is an elegant contrast to the increasingly disturbing storyline. The two actors have incredible chemistry on stage, easily playing up the comedic moments and making their horrible actions seem like nothing other than business as usual.
In contrast, Jordan Haas (as Tobias Ragg), Chris McCarrell (as Anthony Hope), and Emily Shackelford (as Johanna) remain delightfully young and innocent until the end, in spite of their increasingly difficult circumstances. Haas, especially, really delivers with his turnabout in the final scene, making it hard not to mourn the hero child he could have been.
In the end, the combination of discordant music, clever lighting by Amanda Zieve, and expert dummy work by the ensemble serve up a climax that has to be seen and will not soon be forgotten. The entire effect is horrifying, yet so technically perfect that it deserves to be applauded.
The Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET is playing at the Spencer Theatre through April 15, 2018. I recommend you plan for a thrilling experience, but arrange a sitter for the kids because this show is exactly as dark as the script suggests it should be.
For more info, visit kcrep.org.