The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools.
Can an audience erupt in laughter as they watch the lead character gruesomely slit the throat of his unsuspecting victim? Is it possible for a high school auditorium to transform into 19th-century London?
The talented and dedicated cast and crew of Woodland Hill’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” put on an exceptional performance, full of humor as well as terror, that turns this musical into shocking reality.
Though “Sweeney Todd” seems an unlikely choice for a high school production, the students and adults involved produce an entertaining performance despite the dark themes portrayed.
The story features an estranged and disillusioned barber, Benjamin Barker, returning to London under the alias Sweeney Todd, to seek revenge on those responsible for the demise of all he once loved. A story of revenge, love, and misplaced allegiances, the story nevertheless features a touch of humor that maintains a light tone amongst the angst and melodrama.
I was amazed at the attention to detail. All costumes are tailored exactly to the time period, and even the stage crew dresses the part. While the set remains nearly the same throughout, it too is incredibly effective in its portrayal of the essence of the time period. Each actor maintains the appropriate accent according to their role, which only adds to the realistic experience that is created.
The mood is further set by the dramatic lighting. There may have been a joke told one minute and a lighthearted atmosphere about the stage; in the very same scene, I would be put on the edge of my seat when the tone turned darkly ominous, and the stage became flooded with red light and smoke.
Each aspect from the very opening until the final bows is powerful, communicating directly to the audience. This begins with the first scene, featuring a lively and emotional ensemble and distinct music, complete with an ominous sounding organ, immediately setting the mood for the entire show. This powerful performance is carried on by the lead roles. As he points to several individuals among the audience, Sweeney Todd, played by Daniel Mayhak, momentarily strikes fear into us all. He calls people to his ghastly chair, where we watch several meet their dreadful fate.
Todd is often a stark contrast to his partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, played on that night by Laura Valenti. Todd’s morose and serious aura is counterbalanced by the comic relief that Lovett effectively provides.
Across the board, vocals in this show are strong, especially in the performance given by Leah Prestogeorge as Johanna, who sings “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” with incredible grace that elicits a certain sympathy for her character. Even from my seat, I could feel the emotion which each actor uses to bring the characters to life.
Overall, the cast and crew of “Sweeney Todd” portray a particularly dark story with eloquence and passion that can be felt on all levels.
Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. For more high school musicals coverage, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/ and scroll down.