This 'Sweeney Todd' is a cut above
By Dave Howell
Special to The Morning Call
October 10, 2007
''Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet
Street'' is not an upbeat musical. Stephen Sondheim picked the most
unlikely subject he could find -- a 19th-century barber who slits the
throats of his customers and lets his lover use the blood to flavor her
Because of its complexity, the musical is not often presented in the
Lehigh Valley. But this is your chance to see a razor sharp production
that is a cut above.
Sweeney Todd (Rody Gilkeson) has reason to be bitter. He has returned to
London 15 years after being unjustly forced to leave by Judge Turpin
(Matthew Walezer) and the judge's assistant Beadle Bamford (John T.
Monahan). He encounters Mrs. Lovett (Carole Silvoy), who tells him that
his wife has died and his daughter Johanna (Katie Wexler) is a ward of the
The plot has Todd gradually led into serial killing. He first slits the
throat of a blackmailer (Vic Kumma). Then, after losing the chance to
dispatch the judge at the last minute, he decides to take revenge on the
A subplot has sailor Anthony Hope (Joel Dommel) falling in love with
Johanna and attempting to rescue her from the amorous attentions of the
judge. This brightens things up a little, along with a few other comic
bits. One black example is a duet between Todd and Mrs. Lovett describing
different meat pie fillings (sailors are a bit salty, politicians are
oily, and so on).
The show is three hours long. The action unfolds slowly at the beginning,
building motivation for Todd's descent into murder. But the drama
intensifies in the second act to make you as edgy as one of the
There are a number of dramatic solos and duets, and harmonic singing by
characters from opposite sides of the stage. Throughout all of it, there
is not a wrong note by the cast of 25, backed by three keyboards, a flute
and a bass guitar.
Among the many highlights are James Stabp (as Tobias Ragg) and Monahan
reaching wonderfully high notes, and the emotional singing of Lori Sivick
as the Beggar Woman. Gilkeson plays a diffident but sympathetic Sweeney
Todd. Silvoy is perfect with her downscale English accent, and amorality
hidden by a practical and fatalistic outlook.
The only quibbles are a few points where Sondheim's complex lyrics cannot
be understood, and sometimes the background musicians are too loud for the
The staging is fittingly somber, and cleverly done to keep the action at
the front of the stage. The best features are the flashing red lights as
Todd dispatches his victims, and the barber chair which slides the
customers down a chute to Mrs. Lovett's factory.
''Sweeney Todd,'' 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct.
21, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Illick's Mill Road, Bethlehem. Tickets: $18;
$15, seniors and students Fridays and Sundays only. 610-865-6665,
Dave Howell is a freelance writer.
Jodi Duckett, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Copyright © 2007,
The Morning Call