Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is fairly well-known, especially since the release of the 2007 Tim Burton film starring (who else?) Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. While there is a risk taken in producing new work – people hesitate to attend shows they don’t recognize – there’s also a risk taken in producing shows that are known and loved; the audience will compare the current version to all the versions they’ve seen before. Mac-Haydn Theatre has avoided this problem by staging an exemplary version that will delight viewers; if there are any comparisons made, there is no doubt this will rise to the top.
Sent away to Australia years ago for a non-existent crime, barber Sweeney Todd (Mark Hardy) escapes and returns to London to find out what became of his family. Sweeney’s old home is now a pie shop run by the eccentric Mrs. Lovett (Emily Kron), who tells him that his wife, after being raped by Judge Turpin (Steve Hassmer) – the man that sent Sweeney away – took poison and died, and his daughter, Johanna (Kelly Gabrielle Murphy), is now the judge’s ward. Furious, Sweeney opens a barber shop above the pie shop, hoping to lure the judge in and seek his revenge.
Mac-Haydn is a theater in the round, and it works perfectly for this show. Director John Saunders uses every inch of space available to him for the production – not only the stage, but the aisles, a raised platform for Sweeney’s barber shop and the space around the stage are utilized for the actors. The audience surrounds the stage, but the performance often comes to the audience, as well, making it an immersive experience. The technical aspects are on point, too – lighting, sound and a fog machine are all used deftly to increase the gritty creepiness of the show, but it never tips into a cheap haunted house effect.
The cast worked together beautifully; the ensemble slipped in and out of roles without a hitch and their voices in chorus created such rich harmonies that I got chills. Kron, as Mrs. Lovett, was an utter joy. The fun she had playing the character was evident, and she imparted nuance in scenes where it would have been easier to ham it up; her Mrs. Lovett was more well-rounded character-wise than I’ve seen elsewhere, and watching her was delightful. Hardy’s Sweeney was gruff and introspective; he had a Peter Capaldi look that worked well for the part, and his voice was rich and filled the space. Quinn Corcoran, as Johanna’s love interest Anthony, was fresh and youthful; his scenes with Murphy were sweet, and their voices melded beautifully together.
Even if you’ve seen this show before, either on stage or in the movie theater, this is one you’ll want to catch before it closes; the care that’s gone into every aspect of this performance, from lights to music to costumes to staging to sound to acting to singing, is absolutely stellar. This will, I have no doubt, be one of the highlights of your summer theater season.
“Sweeney Todd”; Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham; through August 6; $36-$15; Run time: 2 hours and 55 minutes with a 20-minute intermission; machaydntheatre.org