I was what some would call a Sweeney Todd virgin. So before I attended Egyptian Theatre Company’s production of Benjamin Barker’s legendary and bloody reign of terror on the dark, damp cobblestone streets of 19th century London, I had certain expectations. I had painted Barker a purely evil pyschopath with absolutely no emotion or sense of morality. But much to my surprise, Barker a.k.a. Sweeney Todd is just a mild-mannered man turned horribly unhinged by his surroundings. I felt for Todd … I felt his plight … I felt his frustration … I felt his powerlessness. Not to say I agree or even comprehend with which he attempts balance and justice in a selfish, uncouth world, but just how evil is a man who’s pushed into a sea of predators?
More than Todd’s wielding straight razor, the suggestive nature of Judge Turpin (Jim Dale) and Johanna’s (Cecily Ellis) relationship is disturbing; and of course, cannibalism jsut leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.
So how does Egyptian Theatre Company turn a dark and misanthropic story into a entertaining staged musical you ask. Well, they produce a valiant effort with just a few missteps along the way.
Director Jim Christian immediately sets the mood in the opening scene, which makes your stomach leap. He introduces the unruly-clad ensemble cast sporting doe-like eyes and brooding expressions as they boom “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” But then the momentum suddenly stalls and doesn’t pick up again until the introduction of Mrs. Lovett. However, Christian’s brilliance shines in the scene involving the bulk of Todd’s casual killings, which is creepy, and yet perfectly lightened by humorous stage antics and the incongruous melody of “Johanna.”
J. Michael Bailey’s performance as Sweeney Todd is mostly mild and the goofy hair and makeup makes him look less a madman and more the botched lovechild of Wolverine and Elvira. Mrs. Lovett is uproariously portrayed by Camille Van Wagoner, whose performance stands far alone in the limelight. Company newcomer Justin Bills humbly plays Anthony Hope, a naive “Dutch Boy”-looking young man who quickly falls in love with Todd’s daughter Johanna. Unfortunately their courtship is awkward and unbelievable in its haste. Brian Kessler is quite memorable as Tobias Ragg, a young lad longing for acceptance and tenderness. His duet with Mrs. Lovett, “Not While I’m Around” is beautifully sung and cuts a heartwarming scene. The cruel nature of Beadle Bamford is unfortunately underplayed by D.L. Walker. But Nicholas Bayne as Pirelli, an aspiring entrepreneur, is energetic and fun.
Stephen Sondheim’s difficult lyrics are sometimes muddled in delivery by the characters singing over each other, leaving the audience hearing only noise.
The set design is simple, unobtrusive and offers a not-so-hindered view of stagehands and the orchestra, which is nicely reminiscent of true Broadway theatrics.
ETC’s adaptation of one of the most difficult productions ever taken to the stage — though not excellent — is still enjoyable. Beyond the entertainment value lies an eerily thought-provoking proclamation to the dark side of human nature and our unbridled instinct for survival.
Sweeney Todd is currently running through Oct. 31 at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main Street, Park City. Tickets $17-36, 435-649-9371 or egyptiantheatrecompany.org .