Attend this tale of Sweeney Todd


Aug. 3, 2004, midnight | By Anuja Shah | 15 years, 1 month ago


Upon completion of an undeserved prison sentence, a young barber returns to London to find his wife missing, and his daughter in the custody of his wife's rapist. Distraught and livid, the barber takes judgment and justice into his own hands, turning simple revenge into a dramatic thriller so devilishly tortuous that it ultimately winds its way around his neck.

Staged by Wildwood Summer Theatre in its 40th year, the musical's complete cast, crew and orchestra are comprised of youth below 25 years of age, yielding a commendably intense production.

Lending his vocal talent to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Ryan Manning is an inspired and inspiring Sweeney Todd, whose face betrays anguish and rage where the habitually precise gestures and civil words of a barber cannot communicate such fervor. With similar passion, sweet-voiced Malinda Ellerman's Mrs. Lovett is a heartbreaking mélange of conflicting traits. The pair's slapstick rendition of A Little Priest best bespeaks their talent as both individuals and a pair.

Zak Sandler plays a chillingly authoritative Judge Turpin, although he is most powerful preceding his Joanna , as he finds himself plagued by conscientious self-doubt and guilt for his incestuous lechery. Turpin's plodding right-hand Beadle, Sean Finan, is more than believably intimidating, although comically knows a great deal about Women in their Sensitivities .

Bobby Libby's Tobias longs for motherly love, promising Mrs. Lovett, with childlike bravado, that she's not to fear harm, in Not While I'm Around ; later, he becomes the single masterfully enacted force behind the production's wrenching and unexpected climax.

The most haunting visual of the musical occurs during Poor Thing , as a ballet macabre of dancers appearing constantly to face the audience with expressionless masks surrounds a horrified Johanna (Bligh Voth), playing Lucy. Additionally, such choreography ensures that the best use is made of the available stage area.

Sweeney Todd calls for dramatic lighting and sound effects, due to both its genre and the individual natures of its characters. For the most part, lights and sound complement the actors' passion. The lighting is often from above the actors' heads, exaggerating shadows and making poor and wretched faces seem gaunter, and in warm hues whose deepness represents levels of dramatic tension.

The principal voices are well amplified, and although the ensemble is comparatively quiet, they are by no means inaudible and certainly worth hearing.

The fixed set consists of three major components: a high, center platform featuring a pipe organ, a befittingly simple pie shop and an elaborately detailed mansion atop a rotating platform, before a background of gears. Individually, the pieces could easily be called masterful in terms of design, detail and construction. On stage together and at the same time, with most scenic changes entailing the introduction of additional pieces, they contribute to a look of overall congestion.

At first, it seems especially gratuitous to have Judge Turpin's house, whose balcony is only used once, take up a large volume of space when it does not seem to be important; however, eventually the house becomes a focal point and attention is well worth paying. Upon rotation, it reveals a two-story interior cross-section, meticulously constructed and decorated to include an unused first-floor sitting room, and an exposed stair leading to Johanna's room.

The pie- and barber-shop structure appears quite simple, but clearly took some time to construct, as the barbershop, outfitted with a spiral stair leading to the alley, includes a trapdoor and mostly camouflaged slide to the smokehouse, which belches real smoke.

The organists' platform is, oddly, an infrequent and brief focus, despite its height and pronounced setting upstage center. It is, however, aptly used in times of intensity.

More perplexing are the gears occasionally turning in the background. Although they are a symbol of the industrial revolution, during which era the musical is set, they serve as a greater distraction than enhancement, making the stage seem crowded with shapes and colors. Perhaps the overall congestion is an externalization of the sort of moral claustrophobia Todd seems to feel.

For physical claustrophobics, Quince Orchard High School's theatre is spacious enough that only about half of it is likely to fill, despite the show's quality. Sweeney Todd runs at 7:30 pm on August 6 and 7. Tickets are $7 for students and seniors, and $9 for adults. Click here for tickets, directions to the school and additional information about Wildwood .



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Anuja Shah. Anuja "Otto" Shah, a Junior in the CAP, -is thoroughly excited to be part of SCO, -enjoys the word "fiasco", -aspires to be monstrously cool, -remains prepared to settle for being vaguely nifty, and -probably owes you money, but has fled the country. More »

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