Human Race’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ is a Musical Thrill Ride
Posted On June 23, 2017
Review by Liz Eichler of Sweeney Todd: Human Race Theatre
Human Race’s Sweeney Todd is a 3-D ride to remember. Musical director Sean Michael Flowers and director Scott Stoney successfully translate this epic experience into their intimate theatre. Up close, this show is visceral and heart pounding. You are surrounded by these characters. “You ARE on Fleet Street,” as president and Artistic Director Kevin Moore warns us in his curtain speech; performers exit, enter, and sing right next to you.
Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim created an epic musical. It is the story of Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after fifteen years in exile, seeking revenge for the loss of his wife and child. The original 1979 US production was designed for the cavernous 2,000 seat Uris theatre, while the Loft holds about 200. Many, including myself, remember this musical production, a masterful work of music and Eugene Lee’s industrial scenery (the “Hamilton” of the ‘80s). But bringing it up close, to look into Todd’s eyes, to see the desperation of Mrs. Lovett, and the beauty of Joanna, it transports this to a must-see ride. You are so close to the action that the Human Race challenges you to guess the number of bricks in the set.
This production belongs to Mrs. Lovett, and Rebecca Watson gives us an all-in performance. She is little, but fierce in her desire to survive, teaming with Todd, but sweet –at times–with orphan Tobias. Jamie Cordes is a powerful Sweeney Todd, with a purposeful stare, giving Mrs. Lovett the teaspoon of tenderness which gives rise to their macabre scheme of adding a secret ingredient to her meat pies.
DJ Plunkett delivers an endearing orphan Tobias. Zack Steele creates a passionate Anthony, the young lover. Kimberly Hessler’s voice is sparkling as Joanna. David McDonald provides richness and strength to Judge Turpin. Individually, the ensemble members deliver great performances, but as a chorus they have yet to mesh.
Two stand out songs in this intimate space are “A Little Priest”, when Cordes and Watson have you laughing in the aisle, and “Pretty Women”, which ratchets you up the steep hill of anticipation, as you watch the glint in the eyes of the performers and razor, with your stomach just waiting for the stomach-churning descent.
Heather Powell (Prop Master), John Rensel (Lighting Designer) and Dan Gray (Set Designer) have a lot to be proud of in the details. The set is constantly changing and interesting, as it moves and as the light hits it through the fog. Being close you can appreciate the bird cages, the glint of the razor blades, the harmonium (something like a cross between a portable organ and accordion), and of course the dough of the meat pies. Costumer Janet G. Powell has assembled richly detailed and great fitting clothing for her characters, however some of the chorus are too reminiscent of other Victorian plays.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is running through October 2, produced by the Human Race Theatre Company (Dayton’s Official Professional Theatre Company) at the Loft Theatre, across from the Schuster Center in Downtown Dayton. Contact www.humanracetheatre.org