27 March 2008

Sweeney Todd on tour review

Last week, I saw Sweeney Todd on tour in Los Angeles. There were reports of sound problems in previous performances, but fortunately they were fixed when I saw the show.

It was a good performance, but I just wasn't crazy about the whole actors being musicians thing. I didn't really see how the instruments added to the story telling. Sure, it was cute sometimes, e.g. watching Judy Kaye (Mrs. Lovett) play the tuba badly and Lauren Molina (Johanna) perform slides on her cello, but hardly necessary to the play.

I felt like the two standout performers were Judy Kaye and Benjamin Eakley (who played the beadle). Both were fine actors and singers. Judy chose to play Mrs. Lovett as a sweet, charming character whose only fault was being too fond of Mr. T. She felt bad about locking Toby in the bakehouse.

The judge (played by Keith Buterbaugh) was pretty bland and I felt like his voice was too high for the part. I like a strong bass for the judge.

Lauren Molina did a nice job being a crazy Johanna. The guy who played Anthony was good but pretty much the same as every other Anthony I've seen.

Sadly, I didn't really care for Sweeney Todd's performance (played by David Hess). He didn't really vary his volume much during "My Friends" (he seemed loud for the parts when he should have been soft "whisper I'll listen" etc). His Epiphany was good, but not as good as other previous performers. I didn't like the fact that he tried to threaten the audience from the back of the stage while standing on a ladder. But that's the fault of the director.

I'm just not a big fan of John Doyle's style for Sweeney Todd. I thought he did a much more effective job with the Company revival. The Sweeney Todd revival came off as being clever and novel, but the abstract, minimalist presentation took away some of the emotional punch compared to the original Hal Prince staging. John Doyle often had the actors stand next to each other and act towards the audience rather than facing each other. I didn't like this choice. What's wrong with traditional person-to-person acting? Doyle also chose to substitute the famous barber chair with a baby coffin. I found that really weird and missed the shock value of dumping bodies from the barber chair down a chute.

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