By Michele Markarian
‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ – Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by Hugh Wheeler; Directed by Joey C. Pelletier; Musical Direction by Michael Amaral. Presented by Heart and Dagger Productions, Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, Boston through December 4.
One of the problems with producing a musical, especially one as popular as “Sweeney Todd”, is that there are certain staging expectations of convention. On the way over to Heart and Dagger’s current production, I found myself wondering, “How are they going to construct the pie shop?” It is usually one complicated piece of scenery, and not cheap to mount. Not to fear – Heart and Dagger manage to create a world that’s playful, smart and original, the kind of miraculous creativity that can only come without the limited imagination of a broader budget.
Sweeney Todd is the story of a barber who, after being sent from London to Australia for fifteen years for a crime he didn’t commit, comes back to exact revenge on the judge who’d sentenced him, a man with a hankering for Lucy, Sweeney’s wife. He seeks out his old lodgings, run by a dotty pie maker, Mrs. Lovett, who’s been harboring a thing for Sweeney (not, by the way, his real name). When the two of them join forces, nefarious activity takes over their lives.
It’s a disturbing play, despite some of the lighthearted, and pun-filled songs, such as “A Little Priest”. But Joey C. Pelletier’s direction is a curious, well-appointed combination of precision and slapdash, which often gives the piece a cabaret-like feeling.
Cross casting abounds, sometimes in very funny ways. My conventional “But why?” turned into “Why not?” pretty quickly. Kiki Samko gives a convincing, emblazoned performance in the title role – when her Sweeney is upset, you feel the storm clouds, when happy, the light of a million suns. Johanna and Anthony are dually played by Meghan Edge and James Sims (their duet, “Kiss Me”, is hilarious and adorable). Both have beautiful voices, and Sims manages to slip away from his double onstage life to play the French horn with the excellent four-piece orchestra, situated discreetly at the side of the playing area. Ruth Fontanella, particularly in her role as Pirelli, has an astounding vocal range that thrills. Melissa Barker well plays a droll, sometimes world-weary Mrs. Lovett, whose love for Sweeney – and money – leads her to do wicked things. Some of the props and costumes are very smart, such as Pirelli’s hat, made entirely of pasta, and the half-golden locks, half blue bob hairdos of the dualing Anthonys and Johannas.
The theater itself is a large, cavernous room with high-beamed ceilings. The set mirrors a playground, with a large swing and slide. Sweeney’s barber shop is located at the platform on top of the slide; his victims, once sliced, slide ostensibly into the basement. It is clever staging, and suggests child’s play, or a nursery rhyme, beneath all of the mayhem. This is reinforced by the opener, with children playing onstage, as well as the entr’acte music, piped-in children softly singing and chanting. Boys will be boys and boys will be girls who will be girls who will be boys. For more info, go to: http://heartanddagger.org/