Avonworth's production of "Sweeney Todd" was a simply amazing show, filled with chills, thrills, and spills. With their great set design, and an even better cast and crew, I would slit the throat of any critic who berated them, and bake them into a meat pie.
In fact, when I entered the school, I was greeted by the smell of fresh pies being sold in the lobby, although after the intermission, you won't be in mood for pie. Before the performance began, the audience was greeted by a voice over from Ms. Lovett with the usual spiel about being a polite audience member, a cheesy yet also very amusing touch.
Then, the real show followed with a haunting performance of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" that did a fine job of hyping up the coming story with its great use of dynamics and tone by the pit and cast. I can assure you, it will make you want to stay in your seat to seat to see what happens, regardless of whether or not you've seen it before.
From there it goes into "There's No Place like London," in which we meet our Anthony Hope, played by Ethan Simmons, and Sweeney Todd, played by Nathan Pool. Nathan starts out a little too wooden, but my diagnosis is first show jitters. He gets into his stride half way through "My Friends" and becomes a bitter and belligerent man hell bent on vengeance, but human enough to throw in some black humor and very good singing as you will see in "Epiphany."
But after that, we are introduced to Brooke Tate, an actress with skills, charisma, and a British accent that rivals that of Helena Bohnam Carter, as a ditzy, yet diabolical Ms. Lovett in "The Worst Pies In London." Brooke's portrayal of the character is fantastic, with her never failing to hit a note, and delivering dialogue precisely but naturally. She will be graduating from high school soon, but I hope she will go on to grace larger audiences with her presence.
But of course, a great actor is nothing without a great stage crew, which this show was fortunate enough to have. The set pieces were great, particularly the set piece that serves as the pie and barber shops. You could tell a lot of work went into it when it could be moved effortlessly and still be able to help carry the show. And when the lighting went down, and the oven and grinder came out, it felt like you really were in the dreaded baking room of the Pie Shop.
Another group of people who contributed a lot are the excellent supporting characters and extras. Emma Baker as the deranged Beggar Woman built up the dramatic irony and tension well with her mad cackling and ranting. And yes she can actually sing very well too, as proven in the final scene. Sam Werley as Judge Turpin played his part so well, I couldn't wait for Sweeney to get his revenge. Victoria Davis's performance as Johanna was fair in all the numbers with Anthony, and you can feel her fear in the scene where Sweeney almost kills her
Luke Bojarski as Beadle Bamford was just as good with his mad hatter-like guise and mannerisms. Billy Molinari as Signor Pirelli was one of my favorite things in the production. Billy does a very good job at being a flamboyant showman with quick wit, and briefly a blackmailer, whose time on stage is sadly not that long. William Davis as Tobias Ragg really brought out the innocence, but also street savvy of the character, and his singing is as gentle as you will hear in "Not While I'm Around." And the extras are also fantastic in every number, building atmosphere and singing well. And the orchestra was so good, they made even the scene changes sound ominous.
However, it wasn't a clean shave, "Sweeney Todd" still had a few nicks. My biggest gripe was a dreadful scream sound effect that was used three times. To my ears, it was one of the most heinous sounds in the world, and it would make more sense to get the actors to scream instead. Another issue i had is I found the romance between Anthony and Johanna to be a little too forced, but I can see how it would be hard to make love at first sight not forced.
All in all, I really enjoyed this production, and I recommend it to anyone that wouldn't mind going a while without eating meat pies, because when the musical is over, you won't be in the mood for them.
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. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a long-time Kelly Awards judge.
First Published May 1, 2012 3:45 PM