Ed HuyckCity Pages
September 29, 2015
No, really. Get your tickets today. Hell, if you need to, call Peter Rothstein and demand that he get the cast together to put on the show on a day off. If you have any interest in musical theater, or just plain awesome acting, you have to see Theatre Latte Da's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Performed on a set that looks like a playground for the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre family, Latte Da's Sweeney Toddtakes us fully into the madhouse. It's fueled by a pair of unhinged performances from Sally Wingert as Mrs. Lovett and Mark Benninghofen as Sweeney Todd, the aggrieved barber who cuts a swath of bloody revenge across mid-19th-century London.
Neither Benninghofen nor Wingert is a classic musical-theater performer. Benninghofen, in fact, makes his musical debut here. What they may lack in smooth vocal chops they more than make up for in their rough and jagged performances.
At the play's beginning, Sweeney Todd returns to London after escaping from imprisonment in Australia. He was sent away on false charges by Judge Turpin, who is jealous of his wife and child. He is told that his wife is dead, and his daughter is now the ward of the same evil judge. He sets out to kill the judge and exact his revenge.
Things get complicated, however, and Sweeney has to work a longer game. This is not a problem, as he is also driven to transfer his hate to all of London. Now, no one who sits in his chair is safe from a sliced throat via his sharp razors.
And the bodies? Well, his confidant Mrs. Lovett has a pie shop, and there's no better way to jazz up the "worst pies in London" than with some fresh meat.
Hugh Wheeler's morbid and frightening book is a perfect complement to one of Stephen Sondheim's best set of songs, which display the composer's own senses of style and humor. Tossing a couple of inexperienced singers into the deep end was a daring call by director Rothstein, but one that pays off throughout. Benninghofen's rough-hewn singing voice carries the weight of Sweeney Todd's anger and rage better than a sweeter voice could. Mrs. Lovett is a crusty old bag who is every bit as evil as her barber friend, and Wingert carries that in every moment of her performance.
"A Little Priest," their Act One closing duet, remains a jolly tune about cannibalism that sends the audience bouncing out for intermission. The other moments that they share, either in scenes or songs, sharpen the unhealthy relationship that the lonely pair of characters forge during their murderous rampage.
There's plenty of strong support from the rest of the cast, including James Ramlet as Judge Turpin, the fluid-voiced Dominique Wooten as his right-hand man, Beadle Bamford, and Sara Ochs as the mysterious beggar woman who haunts this corner of Fleet Street. The ever present Tyler Michaels also gives another tremendous performance as Tobias Ragg, the somewhat dimwitted young man who becomes an unknowing accomplice to Todd and Lovett.
Rothstein and music director Denise Prosek (with major assists from the design team, led by Kate Sutton-Johnson's terrific set) have created a living, breathing world that completely ensnares you in a wild ride. And, like an amusement park roller coaster, once you're done you want to get back on and go through the ride all over again.