Destinations Magazine

Review: Sweeney Todd

By Antipodeanblog @antipodeanblog
Review: Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd is probably the most macabre successful musical in history. The gruesome plot revolves around a barber slicing the throats of his customers, who are promptly chopped up and stuffed into pies by his bakery owning accomplice.
I would speculate that it laid the foundation for other grime-fest (Les Mis) and sinister (Phantom) blockbuster musicals that followed over the next decade.
Sondheim’s score is, as always, genius. Demonstrating that he’s one of the few Americans who understands the British stiff upper lip, there are no big belt songs – just a series of gently simmering, discordant refrains that are established in the first act and crescendo into a riveting, perfect nightmare during the second.
An almost unrecognisable Michael Ball brings a much-needed likeability to the murderous protagonist, drawing a fresh ‘whimsical next-door-neighbour’ side from Sweeney. Originality is difficult to achieve with a role we’ve seen performed so well so many times before, and he must be credited for it.
 Review: Sweeney ToddGiven she found fame as a film actress, I was initially sceptical about Imelda Staunton’s casting in the demanding role of Mrs Lovett. But I was completely wrong. Her comic timing was impeccable and her voice was excellent. She faltered once with a clumsy switch to head voice, but that’s the only unfavourable comment I can make about her performance. My favorite moments in the show all belonged to her – The Worst Pies in London was hysterically funny without being slapstick, and her Nothing’s Gonna Harm you brought out exactly the right degree of menacing undertones to make it the creepiest lullaby ever written.
The chorus is extraordinary – this is one of the few shows that doesn’t require them to dance, or look like supermodels. The result of this is that they have all been cast based on their vocal talent alone – and this shows in their ability to tackle even the most elaborate of Sondheim’s melodies without the slightest sign of strain.
In this tale, story is king. To date, no attempt to introduce avant-garde design, staging or effects (no matter how well-intentioned, such as the chorus doubling as the orchestra in the most recent Broadway revival), has quite pulled it off. Ultimately, any such endeavour is doomed to undermine the story by robbing attention. The artistic team behind this staging must be applauded for understanding this, and opting for relatively simple, traditional set design, staging and lighting.
The opportunity to experience a show of this strength with actors of this calibre doesn’t come along every day. If you are in London, do not let this one slip by.

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