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October 17, 2013

In Review: Musical thriller 'Sweeney Todd' is all that

Musical thriller is all that and more

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.

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