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Sweeney Todd
THEATER REVIEW
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2011-08-24

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Playwright: Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics), Hugh Wheeler (book). At: Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets: 630-530-0111; www.drurylandoakbrook.com; $35-$46. Runs through: Oct. 9

If you love Sweeney Todd, do not wait: rush, rush, rush to see this production. If you know Sweeney Todd only from Tim Burton's stylish but woefully misinterpreted film, do not wait: rush to see this production. If you've only seen Sweeney Todd in the opera house, or in the eccentric reduction in which 12 actors played all the roles and musical instruments, or even in Porchlight Music Theatre's intimate staging, then rush to see this production.

Drury Lane has rendered Sweeney Todd as it is meant to be: a full-blooded (no pun intended), complex and gripping work of musical theater—NOT opera, thanks very much—brought richly to life in a lavish-yet-stark staging with no corners cut. Rachel Rockwell is the praiseworthy director and choreographer of the 27-person cast, with astonishing musical direction by Roberta Duchak. Clocking at two hours and 45 minutes (with intermission), this taut production is true to the Sondheim-Wheeler original in every word spoken and note sung, and faithful to Jonathan Tunick's brilliant original orchestrations, even reduced for a nine-piece orchestra (outstanding under conductor Ben Johnson). Downplaying the show's early industrial age conceits, Rockwell chooses to emphasize the ageless and more universal plague of corrupt justice.

Broadway veterans Greg Edelman and Liz McCartney take possession of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, exhibiting exuberant vocal and acting chops. Tall, lean Edelman as inwardly focused Todd—who often smiles but rarely laughs, the lyrics say—lets us observe Sweeney's fervid calculations in which a compulsion for revenge yields to something much darker and damning. McCartney has the insouciance for Mrs. Lovett's comic turns and yet she, too, easily lets us observe Lovett's own calculating and capitalistic desires.

They are supported by leading Chicago players, all in top form: veterans Kevin Gudahl (Judge Turpin), George Keating (Pirelli), Heidi Kettenring (Beggar Woman) and George Andrew Wolff (Beadle Bamford) along with relative new-comers Emily Rohm (Johanna), William Travis Taylor (Anthony) and Jonah Rawitz, a real boy playing the boy Toby and singing as a boy soprano.

The production designs also are exceptional, with a long, linear two-level set slashing diagonally across the stage from audience left to far off-stage on the right. Even the lighting grid becomes part of it. For the pie and barber shops, scenic designer Kevin Depinet borrows with variations the cube concept of the original production. The visual elements are completed by Jesse Klug's surprisingly hot lighting, Mike Tutaj's blood-dripping projections and Theresa Ham's wonderfully textured and detailed costumes (which set the time period in the 1840s) amplified by Rick Jarvie's wig and make-up designs.

Simply no question about it: this Sweeney Todd is a show of superlatives offering sensational bang for modest bucks. If you've never trekked out to Oakbrook Terrace, this is your reason. Really.


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