Stephen Sondheim's musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979) fills two and three-quarter hours with unbridled duplicity, fast-paced twists, angry outbursts, and veiled violence. Thank goodness for the comic relief from the character of Mrs. Lovett, and the romantic yearnings between Anthony Hope and Joanna. Sondheim's musical score, replete with tricky notes and rhythms, provides sounds ranging from a backdrop of ominous tones, passages that tripped lightly back and forth to others that were sweetly lyrical. Themes of injustice, lust, and revenge dominated the plot, but not in a depressing way.
This young cast of high school students thrilled the audience on their opening night with a highly polished performance of the difficult score, complex from both a musical and technical point of view. Nadia Agourram projected the enthusiastic personality of Mrs. Lovett with outstanding energy and conviction. Adrian Thornburg in the lead role of the vengeful barber, Sweeney Todd, mastered the different faces and voices of angry outbursts as well as rage simmering and broiling just beneath his character's surface as he cavorted around the stage with his cohort, Mrs. Lovett. Todd had just returned to England from having been deported unjustly to an island off Australia for fifteen years because of the lust a judge had for Todd's wife, Lucy.
Zachary Burkhardt ably explored the gentleness and freshness of Anthony Hope's persona, as did Chloe Lucente as Johanna with her clear angelic soprano voice. Emily Zoffer portrayed well the character of Adolfo Pirelli, whose elixir Sweeney Todd showed to be a fake one. Pirelli's assistant, Tobias Ragg, skillfully performed by Jack Carmichael with his tenor voice, added a tone of sincerity — a refreshing contrast among other characters dwelling in the dark areas of human nature. Characters of the latter ilk included Judge Turpin, nicely played by Andrew Cook, and Sweeney Todd, who slit the throats of several characters including Judge Turpin and the Beggar Woman without realizing the latter was... oops, you will have to see for yourself. Sadie Frank projected the Beggar Woman's madness and temerity with conviction.
The choristers handled the demanding choruses quite precisely for the most part. They also doubled as unobtrusive stagehands, not missing a cue as they quickly set up scenes, which played sometimes three at a time!
The scenery turned out to be unobtrusively mobile, while creatively and brilliantly choreographed to make the most of the small stage space. Kudos to Director Tom Quaintance for his leadership and for the work of his fine staff and tech students in handling scenery, costumes, and lighting. Their efforts sometimes minimized the boundaries between the stage and the audience. The small orchestra of professional musicians led by Andrew Wheeler glued the performance together with secure execution of light-hearted and ominous moments with considerable sensitivity to the developments on stage.
These high-school actors did a whopping good job conveying the intricacies of this complex plot and learning this difficult musical score. They have received superior training this month through the Summer Youth Conservatory sponsored by the PlayMakers' Repertory Company. These talented high school actors, who encounter rich but intensive experiences, have been working with professional directors, choreographers, and musical directors preparing for these culminating performances of Sweeney Todd on July 17-21. As a parallel course, classes have also been held for young people learning the technical aspects of theater.