ANDERSON — Creepy. Eerie. Disturbing. And absolutely stunning. Anderson’s Mainstage Theatre’s production of “Sweeney Todd,” is all of that and more. Just in time for Halloween, the Mainstage performers go right over the top with this musical thriller that opens tonight.
The spine-chilling organ music is a first clue, but then the play opens with the deadpan, zombie-esque chorus of Londoners. They sweep up the audience into a gruesome clutch with their clipped, wonderfully timed singing, setting the tone for the entire dark-to-the-bone production. You come out knowing you’ve been thoroughly entertained.
Roland VanHorn directed “Sweeney Todd,” with Kirby Cunningham serving as assistant director and music director, and Jeremiah Blackford as stage manager. The music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Hugh Wheeler, make a complex, rich production that Mainstage’s team has well in hand.
“Sweeney Todd” is a study in our capacity for revenge. Subtitled “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” the story takes place in London in the mid-1800s. It tells the tale of a barber (Edward Paul Fry as Sweeney Todd) turned revengefully murderous after 15 years falsely imprisoned in Botany Bay, at the hand of Judge Turpin (Dr. Jay L. Wile). Once he had the barber out of the way, the malevolent Turpin raped the barber’s wife. The wife subsequently poisoned herself. The couple’s child, Johanna (Brook-Glen Gober), grew up as the evil judge’s ward, upon whom Turpin now has lewd designs.
Todd returns to his Fleet Street shop after his release, aided by Mrs. Lovett (Mindy Morton), maker of meat pies that were questionable from the get-go. The pies take on a whole new flavor once Todd begins to execute his murderous fantasies with Lovett’s help.
Everyone in the cast, including the chorus of Londoners, and truly everyone in the crew thoroughly delivers. The Anderson production draws not only on a gifted group of actors, but vital elements in lighting, costuming, hair and makeup, sound and set, to put together a “Sweeney Todd” that grips the audience and doesn’t let go.
Utilizing individual mics donated through Carmel Repertory Theater, the wonderful singing voices of the actors and the excellent recorded orchestral accompaniment fill the theater. While the clear, amazing strains of Brook-Glen Gober’s voice, as Johanna, will not be easily forgotten, the voices of Dana Stone’s Beggar Woman, and Mindy Morton’s Mrs. Lovett are right there as well. Edward Paul Fry as Sweeney ranges from demonic to lighthearted, tragic to comic, while Sean-Michael Johnson as the oily, evil Beadle Bamford surprises in song.
Expect some great duets. Daniel Erwin is an earnest, besotted Anthony, whose voice tenderly wends with Gober’s winsome and fretful Johanna, in “Kiss Me.” “Pretty Women,” with the almost unlikely pair of Sweeney and Turpin, and the comic “A Little Priest” with Lovett and Sweeney are absolute winners.
Edward Paul Fry’s Sweeney really comes into full character through song, whether lovingly singing enrapt to his “friend,” the barber’s blade, or as he diabolically prepares to give the judge a “shave.”
Mindy Morton easily lays claim as a star in this play as Mrs. Lovett. Morton delivers her character on point in every department from her speaking accent, to her expressions, to her singing.
The story often progresses on a darkened stage lit only by spotlights, and occasional murderous red lighting, making for intense, high contrast visuals that perfectly underscore all the creepiness of the story.
Costuming, makeup and hair lend so much to the feel of this production, from the Londoners to the flambouyant, mustachioed Italian barber Pirelli (defined by Zachary Ryan Allen).
While Mainstage has consistently delivered excellent performances throughout the 2013 season, “Sweeney Todd” memorably puts a luscious bow on the whole thing. You’d be wise to reserve tickets early. Community theater in Anderson is strong, full of talent, visionary and progressive – an absolute jewel for Madison County.
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If you go What: Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd," directed by Roland VanHorn. Where: Anderson Mainstage Theatre, 124 W. Ninth St., Anderson When: Oct. 17, 18, 19, 20, 25 and 26. All performances start at 7:30 p.m., except for the Oct. 20 show which starts at 3 p.m. The play runs just over 2.5 hours, including intermission. Tickets: $10 each, available at the box office up to one hour before showtime. Reserve seats by calling the box office at 765-644-5111. Check the website www.mainstagetheatre.org for more information.