I cannot think of a more perfect way to celebrate the Halloween season than with this Laurel Mill Playhouse production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, the blood, murder, revenge, insanity, and kidnapping are enough to keep your nightmares full for days.
To be honest, I began the evening a little nervous and not just because of the musical’s content. Sweeney Todd, after all, is an ambitious and notoriously difficult musical with odd counterintuitive melodies throughout, but every moment of this production not only delivered but well surpassed my expectations of what a community production of this show could be.
Chad Wheeler as the title character was the perfect mix of detached and deranged. His cold focus on revenge and empty unfulfilled expressions were haunting. “Epiphany” at the end of act one actually made me hold my breath, and every time he picked up his razor my heart raced, not to mention my hands jumped to my throat on several occasions.
His accomplice in both talent and insanity was the thrifty Mrs. Lovett played by Kay-Megan Washington. Her mixture of unrequited obsession, sporadic squawks, and collected cunning in the wake of murder was brilliantly delivered and just as uneasy as they should be. She might sell the worst pies in London but her comedic delivery of a woman so off was deft enough to have you rooting for her.
Carolyn Freel and Garrett Matthews played Sweeney Todd’s young and hopeful lovers, Joanna and Anthony. Freel’s beautiful soprano skillfully danced through the iconic “Green Finch and Linnet Bird,” and Matthews’ devotion poured through every note of “Joanna.” Immediately these two had you rooting for them as they attempted to navigate the insanity barring (quite literally) their way.
Those barriers often took the shape of The Beadle played by Andrew Exner and Judge Turpin played by Daniel Plante. A villainous duo, they both made me happy to see them meet their ends. “Ladies and Their Sensitivities,” for example, sung by both questionable characters had me simultaneously squirming in my seat and tipping my choral hat to their vocal skills.
The youngest cast member was also one of the most impressive in enthusiasm and dedication. Sophia Riazi-Sekowski who played Tobias gave it her all and easily charmed her way in to my heart. Back to back songs “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” and “The Contest” sang with Adolfo Pirelli, played by the linguistically talented of Michal Iacone, and the aptly named “Neglected” company (Josie Dubois, Chris Kabara, JilliAnne McCarty, Alex Pecas, Amanda Polanowski, Amanda Roberts, Zachary Roth, and Reed Sigman) were high and much needed moment of levity as the show’s stability quickly started to unravel. Lauren Lowell, as the Beggar Woman was superb.
Performing to a packed house, the Laurel Mill Playhouse used every inch of its converted 100 year-old storeroom floor to their advantage. “Prologue – The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and each of its reprises were truly some of the most unnerving things I’ve seen on stage. They left me constantly checking over my shoulder to see if someone was there…and often times there was…
Another exceedingly high note (forgive the pun) of this production was the music. Musical Director William Georg had his work cut out for him through this tricky score, but he brought his singers and the small pit orchestra backstage through the obstacle course in spectacular fashion. The company numbers were superbly balanced, the diction percussively dynamic, and each solo crafted not only to the song and space, but also to each actor’s interpretation of their character.
This excellent production was produced by Maureen Rogers and directed by TJ Lukacsina. Under their guidance, action moved around the entire theater seamlessly. The costumes by Lynn Kellner and hair and make-up by Jacqueline Maranville was grimy and fill well into the overall production tone. Lighting and stage design, also by Lukacsina, was another clear highlight for this creepy show. From spotlights to strobes, and the clever three-sided center wall that spun from scene to scene, every detail transported you to the grimy and dangerous streets of London.
Riddled with laughs, gasps, and racing heartbeats, Laurel Mill Playhouse’s Sweeney Todd is a masterful production. I highly recommend anyone looking for a fright to head up their way. And while I wouldn’t suggest you take the opportunity to get a shave, they did say that the priest was quite good.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays through November 15, 2015 at the Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online
Meet the Cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s ‘Sweeney Todd’: Part 3: Kay-Megan Washington. (Coming).