When Director Michael Gray creates a vision for a production, his ratiocination, the way his mind thinks to interpret and stage, is different from you and me. His black box theatre at Opera Delaware Studios on Poplar Street has major limitations, square footage being the most pre-eminent.
But, excluding the UofD REP Company, that being heavily subsidized by the university, his City Theatre's brand is undoubtedly the most avant-garde production company in the state.
Sweeney Todd is both composer Stephen Sondheim's most outrageous and creative work. I saw it on Broadway three times during the '70's, starring Angela Lansbury as the entrepreneurial pie maker who saw opportunity to turn the barber Todd's anger and blood lust into a money making proposition. It's a tale of murder, retribution, cannibalism, swooning melodies and....humor of the blackest kind. “Sweeney” passes on the prospect of any redemption for its leading characters..
Producer Gray certainly cannot pay his actors much but their reputation now is such that his casts are talented stratospherically far above the norm for Delaware theater.
Sweeney (Dale Martin) is maniacally superb as the wronged barber. His darkened eyes are only the first clue of the malevolence in his heart. We feel Sweeney's torment in our own souls as he cries out for the justice that he demands will be his. His deep and rich baritone is superb during “My Friends” and “Pretty Women.”
Mrs. Lovett (TS Barnes) played a beguiling and light-hearted counter to the oppressive Sweeney.
Her costume by Kerry McElrone was derivative of Director Gray's vision. A few times Gray allowed Barnes to go for a cheap topical laugh for the audience's sake, but perhaps Gray felt the mayhem should be relieved somewhat. There were a few instances where she reacted a bit too cozy and conversational with Sweeney, inappropriate to the setting.
“Green Finch and Linnet Bird,” sung by Joanna (Lauren Cupples) is one of my top five least favorite Broadway songs. However, for the first time I actually enjoyed the number. Cupples has a beautiful soprano and is a fine actor as well.
Anthony (Brendan Sheehan) was wide-eyed and sincere and has a wonderful voice, most notably in “Joanna,” clearly one of Sondheim's greatest ballads.
The Beggar Woman (Aileen Goldberg) portrays the over-the-top, deranged character with emotion and energy. Due to the confined nature of the venue, she is directly in our faces. We look in her eyes and know something is wrong with her mental makeup.
Due to the small cast and Sweeney's obsession with skewering as many London citizens as he can get his razors next to neck, many of the cast are murdered several times. Pirelli (Tyler Hoffman) felt Sweeney's wrath I think three times.
The smarmy Judge Turpin (Steven Weatherman) played his character with unctuous glee and was particular effective with Sweeney in “Pretty Women.”
The nine piece orchestra under the direction of Conductor JA Kawarsky, professor of musical theatre at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, was as tight a group as an ensemble from Delaware Symphony. To understate, Sondheim's music is not only difficult to sing but also to play.
As Mrs. Lovett sings to Sweeney, “times is tight Mr. Todd, times is tight,” this could be a metaphor for the arts in Delaware. With quality theater such as the audience enjoyed opening night, City Theater is on the cutting edge.
Til December 19. City-Theater.org