by Shirley Lorraine
Conejo’s Sweeny Todd delivers
In the mood for something dark, brooding, frightening and thoroughly captivating? The current production of the award-winning musical thriller Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Conejo Players Theater in Thousand Oaks will fill the bill nicely.
The evil character of Sweeny Todd was first introduced in a Victorian penny dreadful. He has continued to come to life via book by Christopher Bond and, perhaps best known, as a musical by Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim outdid himself with the operatic score.
The story of Sweeny Todd is a dark one from start to finish. Benjamin Barker, recently released from exile in Australia, returns to London hoping to reunite with his wife and daughter. He was sent away by an unscrupulous man, Judge Turpin, who raped Barker’s wife, Lucy, and took his daughter, Johanna, as his ward. Under the new name of Sweeny Todd, Barker seeks justice.
A young seaman, Anthony Hope, rescues and befriends him as he returns. Anthony becomes enamored by the beautiful Johanna, not knowing she is his friend’s daughter. The judge hopes to marry her himself and does all he can to prevent the two young lovers to meet.
A barber by trade, Todd sets up his tonsorial parlor above Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pie Shop to try and begin again. Widow Lovett admits that her meat pies are the worst ever, using stray animals for filling. When Todd finds out the true fate of his family, he vows to exact revenge upon the Judge, the judge’s henchman, The Beadle, and others who wronged him.
Director Celeste Russi fully utilizes the intricate multi-story set by Aaron Van Etten to deliver new scenes, as well as the necessary functional tipping barber chair and chutes.
The vocally and musically challenging piece is superbly handled by the highly skilled large cast.
The cast does wear microphones for this production – a critical point to carry above the front and center orchestration led by David Fraley.
In the title role of Sweeny, John David Wallis knocks it out of the park, both vocally and in characterization. He manifests darkness inside and out without letup.
Dana Kolb as the Widow Lovett displays a fine voice and a cheeky, humorous contrast to the brooding Todd. Wallis and Kolb are a good match who deftly tackle Sondheim’s challenging score beautifully.
The ensemble creeps in and out of scenes throughout to add musical definition and context to the action. Collectively they embody their many mini-characters to full advantage. Veteran actors Steve Perren and Gary Saxer are particularly solid.
Mid-nineteenth century costumes add the right touches to the entire cast. Those worn by Judge Turpin (Kelly Green) and his servant The Beadle (Gabriel Gentile) convey the entitled attitude the characters require. Both are chillingly wonderful in their roles.
Vincent Perez is fresh and compelling as the seaman/suitor Anthony. He is complimented by Joanna Bert as Johanna.
Sweeny Todd at the Conejo Players Theater is a difficult Sondheim offering professionally presented.
Sweeny Todd Continues through March 24. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. www.conejoplayers.org or 805-495-3715 for tickets. Adults $20, Students, Seniors and Military $18.