Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Never a group to shy away from a challenge, Flint Community Players threw caution to the wind Thursday with the opening of Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s gruesome musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Many new faces mingle with familiar folks to bring this incredible and disturbing tale to the stage.
A formidable piece of work and certainly not your usual community theatre fare, there are aspects of this show that are stunning and wonderfully done. Impeccable staging and the gloriously ghoulish set must be credited to guest director and Flint native Paul Gregory Nelson. Equally impressive, Laura Williams Kline’s costumes are uniquely detailed extensions of character.
Predominantly sung, the music dominates in this show. However, not buffered and positioned so as to share nearly half the stage, FCP’s musically strong trio comprised of Wayman Ezell (musical director), Bruce Snyder (keyboards) and Justin Velic (percussion) dominated a bit too much in the first act Thursday. Many vocals were overpowered and lyrics were lost even though body mikes were used, and in a story that relies on lyrics to tell the tale, diction is paramount.
A story of revenge, the play opens with the wrongfully convicted Todd returning to London after many years of incarceration to find his wife gone and his daughter in the clutches of the man he believes responsible for all of his misfortune. In the role of Sweeney, Peter Lightfoot brings his wealth of operatic experience to the vocals along with a palpably brooding and mournful characterization.
His partner in crime emerges from the meat pie shop beneath his former tonsorial parlor. Danielle Rene Blanchard plays the deviously crafty pie maker, Mrs. Lovett. While she was one we had a hard time understanding, her presentation was charming and wily at once all while being vocally quite strong. Her comically gruesome “A Little Priest” ended the first act on a high note.
There is a side love story between Todd’s young friend, a sailor aptly named Anthony Hope (Donovan Leary), and Todd’s long lost daughter Johanna (Emma Erfourth). These two shared a couple of ballads but the melodies were a bit discordant as were their solos as well. We wondered if Erfourth’s placement up and out of sight of the musicians might have contributed to this.
Evil rules the day in Sweeney Todd. The embodiment of that is Judge Turpin as played by Brady Pattenaude who overcomes a certain boyish look to turn his red-haired innocence to something dark and foul.
Speaking of innocence, Shane McNicol is outstanding as Tobias Ragg, the young huckster who is taken in by Mrs. Lovett. His enthusiasm and wonderful ballad “Not While I’m Around” were a bright spot until the very end – well, almost.
Running throughout this story is the intrusion of the Beggar Woman played with equal angst and mania by Karla Froehlich. She is never far from sight and, as such, we should have seen her ending coming.
Strong vocals were delivered by David Lindsay as The Beadle and by Aaron McCoy-Jacobs as Adolfo Pirelli, while an exceptionally strong and impressively choreographed ensemble literally anchored the production.
All in all, Sweeney Todd is worth seeing. It’s not often that a group undertakes a project of this intense theatrical and technical intricacy and succeeds as well as FCP’s production does – issues, bumps and all.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street continues at The Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy, Flint, MI 48507 Nov. 11, 12, 18, 19 at 7:30 pm and Nov. 13 and 20 at 2:30 pm. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com