Double take

Two writers review “Sweeney Todd”

Review: “Sweeney Todd” hits the stage

TheaterCNU designs a metallic musical for all to safely enjoy

~Ashley McMillan, Arts & Entertainment Editor~

At the end of the hair-raising evening, it was an incredible surprise that director Laura Lloyd and TheaterCNU’s production of the musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street ” were able to create an immersive, metallic experience regardless of the barriers the pandemic brought to the theater industry. The emotional engagement never dwindled, even when an actor’s face was half covered and their movements limited to a six foot distance. The mask was never seen to be a hindrance to the actor’s performance, but if anything, a performance challenge they overcame in the greatest artistic taste. 

Regardless of the triumphs, the show powered through and ran like normal (but safe and socially-distanced) in the Peebles Theater through Feb. 26-28 and March 5-7, with audience members isolated by five seats in between them. Due to safety guidelines, tickets were limited to students and staff members, with an exception for parents to come on a particular day out of the two weekends. Despite the limitations, the production was given overwhelming support from the Christopher Newport community, selling out both weekends. I was blessed to even be given the opportunity to attend the show, due to the extremely limited tickets made available. 

Actors socially distanced themselves throughout the entirety of the show, nevertheless, this tactic artfully showcased their authentic theatrical talents and gave a new meaning to the show. Regardless of the six feet of empty space between characters and the lack of facial expressions, actors had to emphasize their dialogue and motions within every motive. Even though this tactic was used to be pandemic-safe, it artistically brought a dark and isolated nature to the stage like I have never seen before. The entire ensemble did a wonderful job at creating such a soul-stirring, yet alluring performance; the added space highlighted everything the ensemble was doing in such an interesting note, and I absolutely loved it. Considering “Sweeney Todd” is a dark musical, I felt as though the outpour of emotions showcased within each musical number made it seem that the character was individually trapped, thus, spotlighting each character as their own metaphorical weapon of power. The actors thoroughly used the distance given to them to produce an aura of mystical entrancement. 

Mrs. Lovett (Emma Robinson) would use comedy as a void to her substandard life, bringing humor throughout the spaces she would inhabit. Robinson mesmerized audience members like myself, fabricating props and moments on set that she instilled in her situational humor. I was so intrigued by how the world came to life with the help of her character, Mrs. Lovett. When it came to Sweeney Todd (Adam LeKang), LeKang emphasized the power of his step to create a demanding presence. Additionally, he acted out Sweeney’s character arc in such haunting detail, it was magnificent to see the persecution of the madhouse that is the “Final Sequence.”

When it came to the costuming, the material production was not only a seamless representation of 19th century London, but it additionally pulled everything about the story together. In terms of the contrast of the character Johanna (Madison Raef), I appreciated the delicate innocence her character presented amongst a dark atmosphere. Out of all of the black masks, hers was light and lovely. Everyone in the cast wore dark costumes that left a mystical trance to their character, while Johanna wore a pastel pink dress. In regard to the Beggar Woman (Autumn Laverne), I noticed how throughout the show her attire would slowly distress, a light presentation of her insane part within the storyline. With all of this in mind, it was clear how well costuming overcame the challenges of a masked show, and in turn, made it even more symbolically beautiful. 

The stage, even though it was manipulated to resemble a more open environment for a safe production, was a presentation in itself. For the character Tobias, (Jack Little), I was awe-struck with how well he drifted throughout the stage, taking advantage of every simple detail. To the locked up room where the oven sat, to the tunnels that were implied under the metal construction, Little truly helped me see the world of “Sweeney Todd.” Beyond this, I appreciated the usage of lighting to highlight multiple depths of the show. For one, the lighting that was used to showcase the burning wrath within the oven. This added element tied in the open-ended stage very well. Secondly, the red lighting that poured onto the stage during specific scenes was a horrific masterpiece in itself, considering it would flicker upon blades being held. The overall stage, though simple, had pieces of interesting, grim detail that I loved. 

Now the music was delightful yet scarring. With orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, there were moments I either wanted to weep or laugh hysterically. With everyone’s vocals and the orchestra in mind, I was able to drown all of my thoughts away and be swept into the “Sweeney Todd” experience. Even while wearing a mask, there was no hindrances or delay in the musical numbers. My favorite musical numbers were “Kiss Me” and “The Worst Pies in London” due to the experience that was made on the stage and for myself. Johanna and Anthony’s (Chad McKnight) musical number of “Kiss Me” was intriguing, and surprisingly romantic due to the lack of contact they were able to make. When it came to Mrs. Lovett’s musical number of “The Worst Pies in London,” I was overwhelmed with hysterical laughter and awe up on the second level; even when I was on the second level, I was able to see Robinson’s dramatic expressions clear as day. 

The entire production was a haunting, musical experience, and allowed me to escape my own dark reality for a short while. Not only was I able to escape, but I was able to wonder more about the world of “Sweeney Todd” thanks to the talented TheaterCNU cast, production crew, orchestra, and ensemble.

Review of TheaterCNU’s “Sweeney Todd”

The masked-up musical goes off without a hitch 

~Shannon Garrett, Staff Writer~

After a thrilling night, it was a surprise that TheaterCNU’s production of the musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” was such a riveting experience. Throughout the show, the emotionally charged production kept me on my toes, even when the actors had to wear masks and be at least six feet apart. I had very little knowledge of the musical before watching this production, though, I didn’t have much trouble following what was going on. The show ran in the Peebles Theater through Feb. 26-28 and March 5-7. 

Tales of misery, woe and revenge excite all of us, and none of them do it better than the musical Sweeney Todd During Act 1, we meet Sweeney Todd (played by Adam LeKang) who explains his backstory.  Then we see him and a young sailor named Anthony (played by Chad McKnight) that have recently come to London, Sweeney tells Anthony why he had left London in the first place. Sweeney Todd used to be a barber with a beautiful wife and young daughter named Johanna, but he was sent away on false charges and Judge Turpin (played by Peyton Creasey) took Todd’s wife for himself. Todd then meets Mrs. Lovett (played by Emma Robinson) who owns a pie shop. She lets Sweeney open up a barber shop above her store. Sweeney dedicates himself to revenge against those who tore his family apart and acts upon it in Act 2. In the end, will Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, get his revenge? 

During the show, the actors and actresses were all spaced out on stage and wearing masks. People would go up and down the stairs all the time, which created a sense of movement and rush; after all, Fleet Street is a busy place. Meanwhile, the orchestra for the show was behind the set and gave it their all. The violins really helped to create a creepy atmosphere that the show needed to have. They had a very simple set, but it worked because having too much stuff on the stage would have not worked. The tech crew did an excellent job at bringing and taking out props whenever it was needed as quickly as possible. Everyone in the ensemble acted and sang brilliantly, and the audience could tell how much effort they put into the show. 

I thought the actors did a good job at having a decent British accent. Adam LeKang, who played Sweeney, was an excellent choice for the part, as he is a talented singer and actor who clearly put in a lot of work for the part. Madison Raef, who played Johanna, has a good voice and seemed very sweet. She did the best she could with such a static role. Chad McKnight, who played Anthony, was a very good singer with such a soft yet soothing voice, especially on the song “Johanna.” “Johanna” might be my favorite song. Jack Little, who played Tobias (Mrs. Lovett’s apprentice), was convincing at playing a child because he felt childlike, mostly due to his voice having such a clear tone to it. Sweeney’s rival barber, Pirelli, had a good actor (Tanner Payne) that pulled off being so pompous as well as an accent switch. Judge Turpin, played by Peyton Creasey, was so creepy, and the actor really pulled that off. I definitely believed in that performance. 

Because the actors had to wear masks, the acting itself had to be more physical, which was fine; while some of the actions in the show would have looked better if the actors could be closer together. I thought the relationship Mrs. Lovett had with Tobias brought out her more maternal side, while her relationship with Sweeney Todd brought out the greedy, amoral side of her. Her song with Tobias in Act 2, “Not While I’m Around”, was so sweet, and the audience could see how much they cared about each other. All of the costumes fit the vibe of the show and the vague historical time of 19th century London, and the costume change at the beginning of Act 2 for Mrs. Lovett, Tobias, and Sweeney denoted a timeskip and an increase in wealth for all three.  Their new Act 2 costumes reflected how the characters saw themselves as their jobs. The poor characters look poor, while the rich characters look rich. I even thought the sailor costume for Anthony wasn’t that bad either. 

I went into the show not knowing much about it, which might just be the best way to experience the musical. I was surprised at what happened at the end but in a good way. That finale was like a gut punch because it was so unexpected. I think everyone in the audience wanted Sweeney Todd to get his revenge. Sometimes, you can do everything you can to get what you want, but it might never happen. All throughout the show, I was engaged, enthralled, and shocked, which is what they wanted me to feel. There was just the right amount of drama and dead bodies to have a fantastic show.

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