Are you looking for a night of haunting suspense to celebrate Halloween? Head out to see Fabrefaction Theatre Company’s 2011-2012 season opener, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, it’s the second major Sondheim production this season in Atlanta (the Alliance Theatre recently closed a production of Into the Woods). The musical tells “the tale of Sweeney Todd,” who seeks revenge on the judge who unjustly sent him to prison and took his wife and daughter away from him.
Clint Thornton provides a booming, powerful voice for the role of Sweeney Todd. His intense performance and menacing allure create a very human and tragic portrayal of Sweeney Todd, making the character more sympathetic. Starring alongside Thornton, Diane R. Mitchell plays Mrs. Lovett. When just Thornton and Mitchell are onstage, the chemistry between them brightens the dreariness of the story.
Mitchell breathes an inspired freshness into the iconic role of Mrs. Lovett, the pie shop owner who helps Sweeney Todd with his plan for revenge. Taking every quirk written into the character, Mitchell not only maximizes the comedic potential of her witty lines, she also elicits empathy from the audience.
Unlike the original Broadway production, there is not an ensemble alongside the main roles. Most of the actors double as other citizens of London throughout the show. Each cast member is excellent; however, Trey Getz and Laura Hettinger are most memorable and deliver impeccably balanced performances. Getz charms as Anthony and his vocals are flawless. Hettinger haunts as the frenzied Beggar Woman, while her powerful voice stands out and chills during the full company numbers.
While not seen, the seven-piece orchestra beautifully plays Sondheim’s rich score. On Opening Night there seemed to be an issue with the microphones that made it hard to understand the lyrics over the orchestra during the opening number, but the issue disappeared as the show continued and will likely be fixed at future performances.
The make-up design is striking (especially for Anthony, making it appear that at first glance the character’s face is masked) which complements Travis Boatright’s blood-stained, Victorian costumes. Jeff Martin’s simple, wood framed set allows for quick scene transformations, and his lighting design accentuates the shocking moments of the show and makes them all the more unsettling.
To add to the macabre atmosphere, the set includes morgue-like drawers where bodies enhance the sinister element of Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. The design also allows for easy costume changes for the characters. Alongside the expanded role of Johanna (Lyndsay Ricketson), all of the elements worked well to achieve director Alexander Greenfield’s reimagining of the musical.
With Sweeney Todd, Fabrefaction Theatre offers a refreshing take on the well-known musical and an all-around bloody good time. The musical plays through November 13, including a special performance on October 31. The show’s running time is about three hours with one intermission. For tickets and more information, please visit Fabrefaction Theatre Company’s website.
– A. Wesley