ABQ Journal Review: “Sweeney Todd”

October 31, 2013

Gruesome good time: A professional-quality production hits the stage at MTS

Thursday, October 31, 2013

If Stephen Sondheim had been in the audience, he would probably have been amazed, and pleased, that Musical Theatre Southwest, a community theater, could mount a professional-quality production of his musical “Sweeney Todd – the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

But that is precisely what MTS has done. That’s no simple task given Sondheim’s jarring music and inventive, rapid-fire lyrics.

What was also quite impressive is that the production delivers the show more as opera, as it should be, than as Broadway show.

And this was accomplished within the tight confines of MTS’ black box. The compactness of the space brought the audience physically closer to the performers, and hence closer to believing the characters and to understanding the story.

It is a gruesome tale of gritty mid-19th-century London. Ex-convict Benjamin Barker, who renames himself Sweeney Todd, (TJ Bowlin) returns home hoping to be reunited with his family. But he learns that his wife had been poisoned—and is presumed dead—and his daughter taken in as a ward by the same judge who wrongfully convicted him. So Todd’s main goal is revenge: Kill the judge.

When that early attempt fails, Todd randomly turns his anger, his grief and his hatred onto his unlucky barber shop customers. The customers’ bodies become tasty ingredients for meat pies in a bakery run by the laboring, treacherous Mrs. Lovett (Kari Reese).

As the central pair of characters, the spotlight is on Bowlin and Reese. They are exceptional singers and actors.

They are not alone in the demonstration of local talent.

Two other pairs stand out. One is the goodness that shines through Johanna, Todd’s virtuous daughter, (Emily Melville) and Anthony (Nate Warren), her suitor and savior; it’s not coincidental that Anthony’s last name is Hope. By contrast is the evilness that pervades Judge Turpin (Josh Griffin) and the unctuous Beadle Bamford (Brian Clifton).

The members of the supporting cast—especially Derrick Medrano as Tobias and Esther Moses Bergh as the Beggar Woman—deserve special recognition.

Hats off to director Hal Simons and musical director Lina Ramos and their design staff. The musicians, all six of them, produced the sound of a full orchestra.

-by David Steinberg