SWEENEY TODD: Music and Lyrics Stephen Sondheim: Book Hugh Wheeler
Runs approx. 3h, one interval
Reviewed Alexander Ray Edser, 20 11 15, Birmingham Hippodrome
WNO’s choice to present and tour with Sweeney Todd is a bold one; a move from opera to a work which, although it bridges opera and musical, stems from the musical tradition. They pull it off with great style; the production is as near perfect as you can get. Rush to see it while you can.
Most notably the company achieve exactly the right singing style, it is hard edged, direct, unfussy. The company is able to communicate the big sweeps of emotion Sondheim calls for – passion, anger, hatred, madness. We get this from the very opening chorus, quite terrifying in its sense of foreboding.
Within this there is fine acting from everyone.
David Arnsperger’s Sweeney Todd is masterfully played. Arnsperger never strains to communicate the intensity of the character, it is always there. He creates a multi-layered, fully three dimensional character, easefully finding his way through Sondheim’s complexities. This Sweeney is definitely wicked, but Arnsperger demands from us the necessary empathy, and how pleased we are to give it. The story is transformed from a melodrama into a tragedy.
Janis Kelly’s Mrs Lovett perfectly complements this Sweeney. Kelly has a natural ability to draw out the comedy while keeping the character’s feet firmly in the ground. The relationship between Arnsperger and Kelly is tangible, in consequence the Todd-Lovett partnership is electrifying. No more so that the first act moment when they move us from one of Todd’s heights of insanity to the hilarious description of what various humans would taste like in pies..
The decision to update the setting works well. The story becomes more immediate, yet remains slightly in the past; nothing feels anachronistic. Colin Richmond’s sparse setting reminds us always of the bleakness of the story while enabling the action to move smoothly. James Brining’s production, which amidst all this toughness also never misses a comic beat, is a truly memorable occasion.
Sweeney Todd: David Arnsperger
Mrs Lovett: Janis Kelly
Anthony: Hope: Jamie Muscato
Johanna Barker: Soraya Mafi
Beggar Woman: Charlotte Page
Judge Turpin: Steven Page
Beadle Bamford: Aled Hall
Tobias Ragg: George Ure
Pirelli: Paul Charles Clarke
Jonas Fogg: George Newton-Fitzgerald
Conductor: James Southall
Director: James Brining
Designer: Colin Richmond
Choreographer: Anna Morrissey
Lighting Designer: Chris Davey
Fight Diector: Kevin McCurdeyn