Chicago Theater Review: SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (Porchlight)

by Barnaby Hughes on October 13, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

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A CONFESSION ABOUT SWEENEY TODD

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been four days since my last confession.

I saw Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd at Stage 773… and I liked it. I know I shouldn’t because it’s about a serial killer, right? And there’s cannibalism, too. The whole show seems to glorify sin, to revel in it, even make light of it. But it was really, really fun. I was maybe a little frightened, but mostly I just laughed.

David Girolmo in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of SWEENEY TODD. Photo by Brandon Dahlquist.

The whole thing was terribly ghoulish, Father, a veritable freak show, thanks to Michael Weber’s imaginative direction and Dina DiCostanzo’s choreography. With faces painted white and eyes rimmed with black, the whole cast looked like zombies, but moved a lot more gracefully. And, thanks to Bill Morey’s splendid wardrobe design, they wore dark Victorian clothes, which were actually quite modest, nothing lascivious about them at all. It wouldn’t be a sin to dress up like that for Halloween, now would it? I want to get one of those high-collared linen shirts with the flowing sleeves, a silk cravat, embroidered waistcoat, top hat, and tails. Then I could be just like Sweeney Todd. But I wouldn’t kill people.

Stephanie Stockstill and Brian Acker in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of SWEENEY TODD. Photo by Brandon Dahlquist.

It’s really quite sad what happened to poor Mr. Todd (David Girolmo). His wife was raped, he lost his daughter, he was wrongfully sent to prison, and he nearly drowned at sea. I could see why he’d want revenge. Fortunately, kind Anthony saved him. Anthony Hope (Brian Acker). Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Hope? Well, they’re back in London, and Anthony accidentally falls in love with Mr. Todd’s daughter Johanna (Stephanie Stockstill) without knowing it. I mean, he knows he’s in love, but he doesn’t know it’s Sweeney’s child. And they sing the sweetest song, “Kiss me.” I must confess, however, that I was a bit shocked when they came on stage in the same bed. They’re not even married, only just met. Talk about fornication! But they do make a lovely couple.

Rebecca Finnegan and David Girolmo in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of SWEENEY TODD - photo by Brandon Dahlquist.

My favorite character in Hugh Wheeler’s book was Nellie Lovett (Rebecca Finnegan). She had a great big heart, taking in poor Mr. Todd and young Tobias Ragg (Miles Blim), a simple-minded orphan. I just can’t believe she chopped up dead people and put them in her pies. Disgusting! But you have to admit, Father, that it’s not so different from our Eucharist. We eat the body and blood of Christ at mass, don’t we? There was other Christian symbolism in the show, too, Father. Mrs. Lovett rubs ash on Mr. Todd’s forehead, just like you did to me on Ash Wednesday.

Rebecca Finnegan and Matthias Austin in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of SWEENEY TODD - photo by Brandon Dahlquist.

But I digress. That woman, Ms. Finnegan, the one who plays Mrs. Lovett, was really funny, always joking around. Mr. Girolmo was kind of funny, too, but in a wicked way. There was such mischief and glee in his eyes when he killed people. It seemed like he did it more for fun than for revenge. And he had a rich, deep voice. There was a bit too much vibrato in it for my taste, but Stephen Sondheim wrote this amazing score to vibrate through your soul, right? At least there wasn’t so much of a vibrato that I couldn’t understand the words; Doug Peck’s music direction and Jenna Moran’s sound design helped, too.

Rebecca Finnegan and Miles Blim in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of SWEENEY TODD - photo by Brandon Dahlquist.

You should have seen Jeff Kmiec’s stage, Father. It was really clever, on two levels, with Mr. Todd’s barber shop on top. When he killed people, there was a hoist that lifted up the bodies and then dropped them through a trapdoor below. And the lower part doubled as an insane asylum. Bedlam, they called it. Isn’t that short for Bethlehem?

Please forgive me, Father, for wasting your time. The fact is, I’m not at all sorry for going to see Sweeney Todd. But don’t you worry. I’m going to say an Our Father and three Hail Marys. Oh, not for me. For that poor Mr. Todd.

David Girolmo and Edward J. MacLennan in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of SWEENEY TODD. Photo by Brandon Dahlquist.,jpgphotos by Brandon Dahlquist

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Porchlight Music Theatre
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 4 & 8; Sun at 2
(check schedule for exceptions)
scheduled to end on November 16, 2014
for tickets, call 773.777.9884
or visit www.porchlightmusictheatre.org

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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