Presented by Heart & Dagger Productions
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Joey C. Pelletier
Music direction by Michael Amaral
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) Heart & Dagger’s approach to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is highly unusual. It’s design harkens back to the original “Penny Deadfuls” in a way fancy pants professional productions don’t. It revels in its everyday horrors. It’s design brings creative license to the next level. Many strong, risky choices were made in this production. Most of them paid off. Unfortunately, some of the bigger ones did not.
Sweeney is about a deranged man so (Kiki Samko) in love with his revenge that his kills everything he touches. With shaving razors… Except for the young lovers. They get to live happily ever after-ish.
This production features staging by Pelletier reminiscent of vaudeville. Casting, costuming and manneristic choices draw intriguing character parallels. A Johanna (Meghan Edge) and Raggedy Anthony (James Sims) duet is especially good at flipping the script. No one is who they believe themselves to be in more ways than one.
Michael Amaral has collected strong, intuitive instrumentalists for his orchestra. They gave and took from the cast with equal, performance appropriate respect. Amaral was patient and forgiving with the work occurring onstage. This implies a heartening, healthy camaraderie between actors and musicians.
This Sweeney is not a vocally strong production. It is a musically strategic production, but the vocals are not wholly reliable. The double as well as cross-gendered casting in this production does not help matters. Solo vocal music and accompaniment weren’t adjusted to suit the casting update. For example, Samko as Sweeney, commits to her role above and beyond expectations as an actor. The role’s music is clearly too low for her. The chamber orchestra adjusts well given the challenge of Samko’s low volume, but five musicians can only get so quiet.
Unfortunately, even in this intimate space, Samko is not alone in this problem. The ensemble’s singing didn’t project. Their diction was okay; dental consonants were clear, and together. Cut-offs were sloppy. Solo spoken lines carried to the audience.
The exception to this is Ruth Fontanella as Pirelli. She straddles the high notes like a cowboy does a bucking bronco, and rides that bull to success. Her Pirelli is flamboyant and fun.
Melissa Barker as Mrs. Lovett is the hero of this production. The issues tripping up the other actors did not encumber her. She was kooky, unhinged, and just the teensiest bit sexy. Barker sang well, and weaved a cunning reality for us to play in.
There are obvious weaknesses in this production. Audience members who can look past them, and the diamond in the rough will have a good time. Heart & Dagger is taking Sweeney in a new direction. That’s something to celebrate.
Lastly, can anyone please explain to me why Mike Budwey isn’t allowed to have a vanilla orgasm onstage? Always staged to do the inappropriate humping, that guy.