Surprising ‘Sweeney Todd’ 

click to enlarge Partners in crime: Adam Scott Campbell as Sweeney Todd and Miss Sheldra as Mrs. Lovett excel in Ray of Light Theatre’s “Sweeney Todd.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Partners in crime: Adam Scott Campbell as Sweeney Todd and Miss Sheldra as Mrs. Lovett excel in Ray of Light Theatre’s “Sweeney Todd.”

“Sweeney Todd,” one of Stephen Sondheim’s biggest, most operatic Broadway musicals, takes on a lighter tone, sounding almost like chamber music, in Ray of Light Theatre’s unusual and rewarding production onstage at the Eureka Theatre.  

Instead of the typical shrill factory whistle, amplified orchestra and overamplified singers, five musicians seated onstage present the complex, ravishing score in a way rarely heard today, as the trend has gone toward blasting the audience.

Ben Randle directs this musical-theatrical treat, while music director Robbie Cowan did the luminous reduction of Jonathan Tunick’s re-orchestration of the original 1979 Broadway production.

The five musicians are terrific: Sean Forte conducting and at the piano, Robert Moreno on keys and percussion, Lucas Gayda on violin (with spectacular solo passages), Bill Aron on reeds and Zach Taylor on bass.

Placing the five around the stage is an interesting decision, fraught with danger, but it works; instruments rarely overwhelm the voices. Maya Linke’s ambitious stage design and Miriam Lewis’ costumes bolster the fascinating musical performance.

Adam Scott Campbell succeeds as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, whose obsession with revenge for wrongs he suffered is the focus of “Sweeney Todd.” It’s a difficult role — a madman who is both a victim and a criminal — but Campbell creates sympathy and horror, and his singing has range and affecting beauty.

Shelley Crowley, going by the stage name Miss Sheldra, portrays Mrs. Lovett, the irrepressible maker of “the worst pies in London.” She is excellent in “By the Sea” and in enumerating the varieties of cannibalistic tarts in the show’s comic highlight, “A Little Priest.”

In the beautiful duet, “Not While I’m Around,” Kevin Singer, as Tobias, nicely takes the lead.

Jessica Smith comes close to meeting the challenge of the show’s most operatic role, Johanna, Todd’s abducted daughter, while Matt Provencal as Anthony, enamored of Johanna, combines good looks, straight acting and appealing singing.

Michelle Jasso is spectacular as the mysterious Beggar Woman; Ken Brill is Judge Turpin, responsible for the dark deeds launching the plot; and J. Conrad Frank is The Beadle, the judge’s servant and partner in crime.

Terrence McLaughlin has a show-stopping turn as Pirelli, an Irishman pretending to be an Italian barber, who challenges Todd and sells a smelly miracle elixir.

REVIEW

Sweeney Todd

Presented by Ray of Light Theatre

Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 11

Tickets: $25 to $36

Contact:
(415) 690-7658, www.rayoflighttheatre.com

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Bio:
Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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