Sweeney Todd Now Playing at Fremont Centre Theatre
When one thinks of musical theatre at its finest, Stephen Sondheim is sure to come to mind. What began as a mentor ship with Oscar Hammerstein when Sondheim was just a boy went on to blossom into reinventing musical theatre. A great example of the layers and beauty to the almost 90-year-old’s compositions lays within his 1979 tragedy, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Currently playing at Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena, Sweeney Todd tells the tale of a former London barber who was wrongfully imprisoned by the corrupt Judge Turpin, who Todd believes murdered his wife and kidnapped their then-infant daughter. After his escape and sometime in hiding with Anthony, a kind sailor who offers aide to Todd, the demon barber returns to Fleet Street. Here, he becomes acquainted with local pie baker, Mrs. Lovett, and together, they scheme up a plan so devious and horrific you may never eat a meat pie again!
Sweeney Todd at Fremont Centre Theatre
Determined to get his revenge on Turpin, Todd sets up a barbershop above the pie shop. Collecting a few other enemies, the barber slits the throats of those who stand in his way, and in they go to Lovett’s meat pies that are in popular demand among London villagers. Meanwhile, Anthony and Todd are reunited and it’s discovered that Anthony’s in-love with the evil Judge’s gorgeous ward, who turns out to be a grown-up Johanna, Todd’s daughter. Captured since she was a baby and terrified of the proposed marriage to the Judge, the men concoct a plan to kill Turpin and get Johanna back once and for all.
Fremont Centre Theatre has been a best-kept secret to the Los Angeles theatre community since 1997. The 75 seat venue regularly partners with Young Stars Theatre to conceive youth theatre productions. While Young Stars’ roster is usually exciting shows aimed for junior theatre-goers, the non-profit produce one “adult” show each year to serve as an annual fundraiser.
Operated by Gloria and Jack Bennett, Young Star Theatre often serves as a child’s first introduction to the magic of live theatre. With Sweeney Todd, the Bennett’s, (who star as Todd and Mrs. Lovett) along with director, Mirai Booth-Ong, have crafted a dynamic, sitting on the edge of your seat production while sprinkling in incredibly talented actors of all ages. The Bennetts shine as our demon barber and idiosyncratic baker. The chemistry is there, of course, and makes for an ideal match on stage as they make the often complexity of a Sondheim score seem effortless.
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Eric Eberle as lovesick Anthony to Serenity Robb’s Johanna also had some intricate numbers in underscoring dialogue songs including Kiss Me (Part One and Two). The duo proved to pair extremely well together, with Robb’s exquisite soprano showcased beautifully in Kiss Me, and Green Finch and Linnet Bird.
As the sinister Judge Turpin, M. Hayward Scott sets the tone immediately as our villain. A personal favorite from the soundtrack is Pretty Women; a fun, playful ditty as a happy Turpin gets a shave from the new barber of Fleet Street. Bringing to mind the easy, breezy melody of You Could Drive a Person Crazy from Sondheim’s Company, the men duet on this classic both swiftly and skillfully.
A duo I adored in the 2007 Tim Burton film adaptation of Sweeney Todd was Adolfo Pirelli and his trusty young sidekick, Toby Ragg. Pirelli is a known barber and miracle worker for his “magical elixirs” that regrow your hair. His front man is adorable Tobias Ragg, a young orphan lad always by his side.
Only Six Performances Left
Jacob Dalton brought the flair and pizzazz one hopes to see demonstrated to the audacious Pirelli while making his “adult show” debut as Toby is Hudson Barone. As I’ve mentioned, Sondheim’s scores are not an easy undertaking. Ask even the most veteran of stage performers, and most will tell you it’s an art all of its own to master the delicate craft of a Sondheim song. Sweeney Todd shows to be no different as over eighty percent of the show is set to music either sung and/or involving dialogue. While I was surprised to see such a young actor cast in this prominent role, Barone showed great depth and brought much heart to his performance. With great maternal chemistry in Mrs. Lovett to his Toby, Barone and Bennett’s duet on Not While I’m Around was an especially poignant moment to the evening.
Booth-Ong and her creative team have produced an excellent telling of Sweeney Todd. While the intimate venue leaves much to the imagination as far as scenic design, the songs and atmosphere create the world in which the audience goes to. The expertly crafted musical direction is led by Daniel Koh, who holds a Doctorate in Choral Conducting from the Yale School of Music. Costume designer Jaclyn Khitikian has made simple but appropriate pieces for our 19th century London, while Lighting Design by Sam Phillips gives some chilling, bloody illusions.
As you might have gathered by now, Sweeney Todd is not for the faint of heart. Parental guidance is strongly suggested. It plays at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena for just six more performances. Book your tickets HERE and get ready for a wonderful night at the theatre.