Sweeney Todd at A Noise Within Theater

A Noise Within delivers an inspiring revival of Sondheim’ Sweeney Todd under the deft direction of Julie Rodriguez-Elliot and starring Geoff Elliot as Sweeney.  This is one of Sondheim’s more challenging musicals – in no small part because of his trademark demanding lyrics and score – but also because of the political and spiritual undercurrents that run through the story.

Cassandra Marie Murphy and Geoff Elliott in “Sweeney Todd,” at A Noise Within, the most honored company in LADCC nominations. Photo: Craig Schwartz.
Cassandra Marie Murphy and Geoff Elliott in “Sweeney Todd,” at A Noise Within. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

The story of Sweeney Todd. The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, began its life in 1846 as a story in a penny dreadful publication in London.  Its popularity spawned a series of plays and films over the next century and a half, culminating in Sondheim’s Broadway production in 1979 starring Angela Landsbury and Len Cariou.  The story is part of a long horror tradition dating back to Elizabeth and Jacobean theater, and includes today’s popular horror films.

Director Rodriguez-Elliot finds some new dimensions to the piece that were not as apparent in the original Broadway versions.  The original production painted Sweeney’s London as a version of hell, with Sweeney emerging as a kind of devil incarnate.  However, Geoff Elliot, in a remarkable turn as Sweeney, is more of a realistic character, a London East Ender, with a Cockney twinkle who live has taken a turn toward the macabre.

With this more realistic take on Sweeney’s character, the political and social commentary of the piece come into sharper focus.  In a world of desperate poverty, people are drawn to desperate measures – like chopping people up into meat pies – in the face of their hopeless situation.  As Sweeney struggles for revenge against the cruelties of the political system, he becomes a kind of Everyman seeking moral revenge, even as his world collapses.  In the end, no one is saved – all is lost.

Geoff Elliot has a fine, direct baritone voice which also infuses his character with a real Everyman quality.  Cassandra Marie Murphy is an endearing and often hilarious Mrs. Lovett.  James Everts and Joanna A. Jones deliver strong performances as the young lovers, and the Noise Within ensemble is in typically strong form.

Sweeney Todd runs through March 17th,  For info go to anoisewithin.org

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