Sweeney Todd at Signature Theatre

When I was in London in May 2006, I actually went to Fleet Street and saw where Sweeney's barber shop was supposed to be. Signature Theatre's production looks nothing like present-day London (or 2006 London); it's actually made to look like a factory complete with elevator. James Kronzer creates a bleak, industrial world where Sweeney exacts his revenge.

Ed Gero, whose resume reads like a who's who of Shakespeare's leading roles, plays the title character. His partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, is portrayed by Sherri L. Edelen, who won a Helen Hayes Award last year for her performance of Mme. Thenardier in Signature's Les Miserables. They're no Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in the looks department, but these two are WAY more talented. Edelen finds the humor in her character the Bonham Carter generally missed and Gero brings a lovely subtlety to the character totally overlooked by Depp, even if he's not really a singer. The rest of the core cast and the supporting cast also bring the characters to a more brilliant life than they had in the movie. Signature favorite Channez McQuay flexes her considerable acting chops as the Beggar Woman who discovers Sweeney's plot.

For those who don't know the show, 15 years ago, barber Sweeney Todd (then known as Benjamin Barker) was deported for life for a trumped-up crime. This was because Judge Turpin (Chris Van Cleave) wanted Todd's wife for himself. Instead, Mrs. Todd took arsenic and the judge ended up with the daughter, Johanna (Erin Driscoll) instead. When the play begins, Todd has just returned to London under his new pseudonym. Anthony, a young sailor (played by newcomer Greg Maheu) who rescued Todd from drowning, is with him when they are accosted by the Beggar Woman (McQuay). Todd leaves for Fleet Street and Anthony wanders the streets of London. Along the way, he hears Johanna singing, and falls immediately in love. He discovers her name and buys a bird from a street vendor for her. As he is delivering his token, Turpin and Beadle Bamford (Chris Sizemore) return home and Anthony is banned from ever coming near the house again.

Meanwhile, Todd has entered Mrs. Lovett's pie shop. She finds out his true identity, and tells him that she has been keeping his razors hidden until his return, even though she had no idea if he'd ever actually be back. With his right arm complete again, Todd seeks out a challenge and finds it in Pirelli (Michael Bunce), a street performer. Pirelli states that he can get a closer shave and pull a tooth better than anyone. Unfortunately, he's wrong and loses. However, he visits Todd's new shop above the bakery and reveals that he knows Todd's true identity. For this, Todd kills him and hides him in a trunk. Mrs. Lovett decides not to waste good meat and pops Pirelli into a pie. With Todd's seemingly endless stream of customers, the pie shop soon is a booming business. However, revenge is still on the top of Todd's to-do list. He wants the Beadle and the judge. You'll have to see the show if you want to find out if he gets them.

The greatly talented ensemble includes Jane Cantrell, Matt Conner, Sean Maurice Lynch, Kevin McAllister, Katie McManus, Christopher Mueller, Russell Sunday, Hannah Willman and Weslie Woodley. Sam Ludwig plays Tobias Ragg, first Pirelli's boy then Mrs. Lovett's.

There wasn't as much blood as I was anticipating, but that made the show no less chilling. Everything is executed (pardon the pun) brilliantly, from costumes by Kathleen Geldard to the 4-piece orchestra conducted by Zak Sandler. It's dark, it's bloody, it's funny... it's what Sweeney Todd really should be.

Sweeney Todd
by Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim
directed by Eric Schaeffer
Now through April 4
Tickets $64-86


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