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THEATER REVIEW Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
by Karen Topham
2018-03-21

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Written by: Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler

At: No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. Tickets: $39-69 ( higher price includes dinner ). Runs through: April 29

The tiny theater at No Exit Cafe would seem to be a hindrance to putting on a show like Sweeney Todd, but Theo Ubique manages to make it a plus instead—creating a moody, intimate production that works in every conceivable way.

Director Fred Anzevino uses every inch of the space, surrounding the audience with the performance and inviting us to see it in ways we never have before, making the familiar tale of a vengeful barber, a pair of lovers, and a hilariously sociopathic meat pie cook feel fresh and new. We are up close and personal with these people, and the actors therefore are required to make every gesture and facial expression full of meaning.

Perfectly cast, the show shimmers with excellent performances. Philip Torre's imposing, angry Sweeney powers the musical, of course, but Jacquelyne Jones is a revelation as Mrs. Lovett. There may be no real chemistry between the two characters, but the actors blend perfectly, with her brightness counteracting his darkness. The result is a clearer understanding of both and many subtle; perfect moments. "A Little Priest," for example, is alive with all of the possible nuance this funny and outrageous song offers.

The lovers, too, are brilliant. Nathan Carroll's Anthony is simply the best I've seen, able to hold his own against the ominous Todd and make his Romeo-like infatuation with Cecilia Iole's Joanna more believable and understandable than is often the case. For her part, Iole's gorgeous soprano voice might have been her finest contribution in another production, but here we more clearly bear witness to her frustration, her joy, and her torment at the hands of John B. Leen's deliciously twisted Judge Turpin. And Kevin Webb's take on the other villain is less broad and thus more defined than most large stage Beadles.

These actors and a crackling ensemble are lighted by a creative, melancholy design by James Kolditz, who keeps the lights dim as befits the darkness of the scenes we are watching. Kolditz mostly chooses to highlight actors as they come into focus, so they become eerie visages in the night, an effect enhanced by Anzevino's decision to use zombielike makeup on practically the entire ensemble.

With Jeremy Ramey's perfectly sized four-piece orchestra providing all of the power of Sondheim's finest score, this Sweeney Todd is not to be missed. Theo Ubique's final play in its home of 15 years ( they move to a new house in the fall ) is indeed a memorable one.


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