Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Theresa Borg
Photos by Ben For
Darling Harbour Theatre until June 16
Her Majesty’s Theatre June 20 to 23
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Is there any need to explain the story of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street? If there is, it’s about barber Benjamin Barker who, after fifteen years in the penal colony of Australia, returns to London in 1846 as his new identity, Sweeney Todd, and he has revenge in his heart.
Judge Turpin sentenced him for a minor misdemeanour and sent him away from his wife and daughter. Sweeney Todd’s wife has apparently suicided and daughter Johanna has become the ward of the judge.
Sweeney Todd sets up a barber shop above Mrs Lovett’s pie shop. Meat is scarce and her competitor is responsible for the reduction in the dog and cat population in the area. In Mrs Lovett’s pies, meat is barely a rumour, and when Sweeney Todd is compelled to cut the throat of an extortionist, Mrs Lovett’s problem is solved. The business arrangement gains momentum until its inevitable end.
Experience has compelled us to anticipate massive performances from Anthony Warlow in musical theatre, and in the title role he more than lives up to that expectation. It’s not only his powerful baritone voice, but also the inflexions and nuances, and his strong stage presence and postures make it difficult the imagine anyone else in the role.
Juxtaposing with Warlow’s performance is Gina Riley as Mrs Lovett. Riley’s pop musical theatre vocals and comedic awareness provide the ideal foil. The two leads work extremely well together.
Providing able support are Debra Byrne as Beggar Woman, Tod Strike as Adolfo Pirelli, Daniel Sumegi as Judge Turpin and Anton Berezin as Beadle Bamford. As the young lovers, Jonathan Hickey (Tobias) has the potential to be a powerhouse in musical theatre, and the high-ranging soprano tones of Genevieve Kingsford as Johanna are a delight. It will be worth watching the process of these two performers.
Backed by the twenty-two piece orchestra, this is an outstanding production. Director Theresa Borg and Choreographer Jo-Anne Robinson do well to navigate the difficult staging area.
There are two downsides to the short Sydney season. One is that it is a short run and the other is the venue. The new Darling Harbour Theatre looks and feels like it was designed by a bureaucrat with a background in accountancy.
Those aside, this latest Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is so good that it would even be worth traveling to Melbourne to see it later this month.