Great Lakes Theater’s Magnificent, Macabre Sweeney Todd

UPDATE (10/10): In all my excitement for Sweeney Todd, I forgot to share a social media discount with you. Use code PR6 when purchasing tickets and save $10 off each A Level ticket you purchase. (Offer not valid retroactively, in conjunction with other offers or on student priced tickets.)

“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. / His skin was pale and his eye was odd. / He shaved the faces of gentlemen / Who never thereafter were heard of again. / He trod a path that few have trod. / Did Sweeney Todd. / The demon barber of Fleet Street.”

Tom Ford in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street disposing of one of his victims. All photos in this post by Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of Great Lakes Theater

Tom Ford in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street disposing of one of his victims. All photos in this post by Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of Great Lakes Theater

In Stephen Sondheim’s macabre musical Sweeney Todd, you need an actor capable of capturing a man broken by injustice and tragedy, reshaped into a monster obsessed only with avenging his family.

Great Lakes Theater’s Sweeney Todd, running through Nov. 2 at PlayhouseSquare’s Hanna Theatre, has found that in actor Tom Ford.

An 8-season veteran of Great Lakes Theater, Ford brings a manic frenzy to Todd. With a theatricality similar to classic horror films, he’s a convincing madman bent on punishing the lecherous judge who wronged him, even if that means hurting others along the way.

In “The Barber and His Wife” and “My Friends,” Ford’s commanding voice digs into the character’s agonizing grief and isolation. However, he’s equally capable of switching on the charm and hilarity in songs like “A Little Priest.” 

Sara M. Bruner and Ford as the macabre misfits Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd

Sara M. Bruner and Ford as the macabre misfits Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd

He’s very well-matched with Sara M. Bruners Mrs. Lovett, the amorous and, uh, “creative” pie shop owner who takes Todd in. Together, their barber-and-pie-shop plan serves up a well-fed (and ultimately too-closely-shaven) clientele, while giving them both what they want until the tragic climax.

It’s hard to not be eclipsed by the role of Sweeney Todd, especially Ford’s performance; however, Bruner holds her own incredibly well. Her Mrs. Lovett is racy, wild, and even tender.  

Together, they were magnetic. I was on the edge of my seat – either in suspense or laughter – when they shared a scene.

Bruner's saucy Lovett serving up the worst pies in London

Bruner’s saucy Lovett serving up “the worst pies in London”

A little bit steampunk, a little bit a lot Expressionist Horror film, the costumes, set and overall vibe of the production are a fun (and seasonally appropriate) take on Sweeney Todd. As director Victoria Bussert commented during the pre-show Director’s Talk, there’s lots of leather in this show.

Todd’s floor-length black leather, strapped jacket in the first act, and then his red leather tails coat in the second are fantastic; while Judge Turpin and Beadle’s stunningly lavish costumes establish the characters’ excess and corruption immediately. 

M. A. Taylor as The Beadle and Darren Matthias as Judge Turpin

M. A. Taylor as The Beadle and Darren Matthias as Judge Turpin

My love of Stephen Sondheim is well-entrenched. Assassins was the first show I worked on my freshman year at La Salle, where I was introduced to theatre. His scores are haunting and complex. They can also be incredibly challenging, not just for the actors, but for audiences.

Sweeney’s songs feature a lot of overlapping lyrics. On the one hand, this speaks to the chaos of London and Todd’s breakdown, but it can also prove difficult to understand at times. This was my fourth Sweeney and there are new things I pick up on each time.

Mic problems in the first act made it difficult to hear some of the songs. However, as it was the show’s preview performance that we saw, wrinkles are to be expected and worked out before opening night. Most of it was resolved by the second act, which helped performances such as Chris Cowan’s Tobias stand out later on. His “Not While I’m Around” surprised – and destroyed – me, in a good way.

Chris Cowan's Tobias shows his adoration for Mrs. Lovett

Chris Cowan’s Tobias shows his adoration for Mrs. Lovett

Sweeney Todd runs through Nov. 2 in repertory with Shakespeare’s Richard III. As with Great Lakes’ other rep pairings, many of the actors perform in both. In this case, all but one actor are shared between the productions, which gives an audience member who sees both shows the chance to fully appreciate Great Lakes’ impressive talent.

If possible, enhance your experience with a Salon Thursday or Saturday matinee pre-show discussion. The performance we attended included a Director’s Night talk with director Victoria Bussert and Producing Artistic Director Charles Fee, which gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the production process. Visit greatlakestheater.org/calendar for performance days and times.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend the Social Media Night performance of Sweeney Todd in exchange for sharing my opinion about it on Twitter and other social media. I chose to blog about it and my opinions are 100% my own. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>