The story of Sweeney Todd is one of surprising longevity. First appearing in an 1846 Penny Dreadful titled “The String of Pearls,” the story of a twisted barber cutting his way through hapless victims like hair in his daily occupation, has managed to remain in the public eye for 170 years. Aiding this success are numerous film and stage adaptations, especially the 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. This version of the tale, arguably the most famous rendition, is the one Reinhardt University’s Theatre Program recreated. In this adaptation, Sweeney Todd is an exiled barber seeking vengeance on Judge Turpin for ruining his life even if it means slitting the throats of the entire town first.
Directed by Reinhardt Theatre Professor David Nisbet, the show opened on the evening of Nov. 19 to a large and enthusiastic crowd who was not shy about responding to what happened on stage. Speaking of the stage, it was transformed wonderfully by the excellent set pieces designed by Reinhardt’s Morgan Brooks into Victorian-era London and each locale was represented excellently by the set as well as the performances within.
The top performance of the evening was arguably Junior Nick Cothran as the titular Sweeney, though every actor on stage seemed the proper fit for their roles. Special mention for supporting roles go to Christian Gates as Jonas Fogg, the operator of an asylum, and Nik Griffo as Pirelli, an Italian barber who seems more willing to pawn off his elixir than cut hair. Griffo was delightfully over the top and enthusiastic while Pirelli was in character and fittingly manipulative when his true identity was revealed. Gates’ performance called to mind a character that would not seem out of place in an old horror movie, equal parts creepy and funny.
Cothran brought a nice depth to Sweeney, as is fitting, knowing when to put on the darker aspects of the character where it works. There are scenes where Todd must interact with the general public and not stand out while not necessarily losing his dark side, something Cothran captured beautifully. Physically he captured Sweeney’s emotions quite well and smoothly transitioned between expressions when needed.
Also noteworthy was the orchestra. Musical Director Brian Osborne certainly picked an excellent selection of Reinhardt’s musicians as this might very well be the best orchestra assembled yet for a Reinhardt performance.
One shortcoming of the show was a result of the performance space. Watching from the balcony above the orchestra, there were instances where the music overrode the voices on stage, and unfortunately, parts of stage left were blocked from view and only visible by bending at odd angles. This made Judge Turpin’s solo song, along with a few other parts of the show, frustrating, but it did not negatively affect the show’s overall positive impact.
This was yet another wonderful performance by the Theatre Program. For those wishing to see future Falany hosted events, the next one will be the Christmas concerts starting on Dec. 1.
Written by: Jacob Howard. Photo via: Facebook Reinhardt University Theatre Program “Sweeney Todd. Opening Night”