**One Man's Theatre Journal, Nothing more, Nothing less**

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sweeney Todd

March 23rd, 2008
Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles

Starring Judy Kaye and David Hess.

By now, most know the story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who, with the help of Mrs. Lovett, wrought monstrous revenge on the evil judge who imprisoned him, raped his wife and stole his child.

This production has no orchestra. The instruments are played by the cast of actors/singers. This cost-saving innovation was cooked up by talented British director, John Doyl. And it is interesting to watch how the actors never leave the stage, always supporting and helping one another in what really amounts to a complex juggling act. The cast is a well-oiled machine.

Judy Kaye is Mrs. Lovett. She's wonderful (and has done the production several times with different Sweeney's by her side). Her voice was strong, powerful, sweet and her comic timing is very sharp (as always). And we both liked David Hess's less "stony" Todd. He seemed more alive, more human, more expressive.

We were especially entertained and impressed by Edmond Bagnell who played Tobias (Toby). The violin seemed part of his character, and he projected a constant drama and realism that went along way toward helping us use our imagination to fill in the missing set pieces and actions. Lauren Molina as Johanna was also wonderful, adding a charmingly goofy freshness to the character we hadn't seen before.

If you know this musical and have seen it before, you'll likely enjoy it for the music and solid casting. But we both wondered how on earth anyone who hasn't seen this can follow the miming, odd stage business and "milling about" that is supposed to represent actual action taking place. It didn't hinder the first act, but in the 2nd act, this did not work at all; the miming and indications of what was happening were a pale ghost of the intensity and emotional impact needed (in spite of superb performances). To us, this approach shattered the mood and the effectiveness. It was like watching an approximation of "Sweeney Todd."

It's worth seeing for the innovation and freshness if you know the piece. It won awards from the West End to Broadway, and this is a fantastic opportunity to see this artfully minimal production. And for Judy Kaye alone. She's wonderful.
But I'd never take someone who isn't already familiar with what this masterful musical is at its undiluted best.

photos from the program: David Allen Studio dot com.



Blogger carli said...

I felt EXACTLY the same way when I saw the NY version of this production. I liked the buckets of blood and everything, but the people with me couldn't really follow the show and didn't care for it. I also didn't like the change to Mrs. Lovett's demise. And now that I've seen Patti Lupone knock it out of the park as Mama Rose, I don't feel as bad saying I thought she was, well, not the best Mrs. Lovett I've ever seen. (That would be Christine Baranski.)

1:08 PM  

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