Seated in the Tonsorial Parlour: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Presented by The Longwood Players
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Kaitlyn Chantry
Music Directed by Jeremy Lang

November 5 – 20, 2021
Chelsea Theatre Works
189 Winnisimmet St.
Chelsea, MA
TLP on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

Chelsea, Mass. — TLP’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a forthright production. It takes no risks, but it lacks pretension. The staging is simple but the vocals are strong. The orchestra performs mightily. It is exactly what a good Sweeney Todd should be at a community level. 

TLP’s Sweeney Todd almost didn’t happen. The director’s note by artistic director Kaitlyn Chantry tells us that COVID-19 shut down their May 2020 production. It was resurrected in Chelsea, MA after sixteen months of isolation and fear. It’s good to see that the Longwood Players survived through quarantine. Sweeney Todd is a strong start to their season. 

Sondheim and Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd is the story of a man so twisted by cruelty that he’s willing to do anything to anyone for revenge. And he does. Todd (Steve Flaherty) is a simple man with an exquisite skill at giving a close shave. He seeks his long lost daughter Johanna (Erin Matthews) who is the ward of Judge Turpin (Todd Yard). Turpin plans to marry Johanna who would rather elope with Anthony (Christopher McIntyre). 

Photo: Kaitlyn Chantry

Anthony is friends with Todd who lives above Mrs. Lovett’s (Katie Pickett) pie shop. It’s in the pie shop basement that Toby (Ian MacGillivray) discovers the bodies of Todd’s clients. The Beggar Woman (Larissa Jantonio) and Beadle Bamford (Taylor Hilliard) watch it all happen. Jasmine Riley, Sydney Roslin, and Ethan Washington round out the cast.

TLP’s Sweeney Todd is well sung. The vocals are strong despite the limitations of the Chelsea Theatre Works blackbox. Every seat is awash in sound. We could hear each harmonic layer in the orchestra and vocal ensemble. We could hear when the cast cut off together, and when someone forgot to count. We knew when the instrumentalists were at odds with the vocalists. It is wonderful and overwhelming.

Music director and percussionist Jeremy Lang performs a second, simultaneous show in the Sweeney Todd orchestra pit. I was awestruck when I saw him execute a triple-cue: nodding to a soloist, hitting a mallet against an instrument with one hand, and then waving in the instrumentalists with the other. It was an intricate ballet of sound and small motions.

It wasn’t a one-off. Lang executed complicated cues with ease through the three-hour performance. His generosity to the score, his orchestra and his cast is exemplary. No one was left behind. If triplet notes represent a heartbeat within a piece of music, then the triple-cue is the heartbeat of a musical. How romantic!

The cast. Photo: Kaitlyn Chantry

The show had some hiccups: sometimes actors were very dramatic at a wall; actors pretending to navigate different spaces ran into each other on stage because they weren’t managing their bodies in their actual shared space; the chair “fit for a king” wobbled; accents wavered in and out; lyrics containing metaphors were sung literally (London isn’t factually on fire. “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” is an allegory.).

But on the whole, this is a satisfactory production. The characters are believable. The singing is pretty. The story is told well.  

People who love Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd will enjoy TLP’s version. People who don’t enjoy musical-operas, Sweeney Todd, or Sondheim will not enjoy this version. It is not for them. Hadestown is at the opera house. Try that instead. 

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