You can attend the tale of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street as Chanticleer Theater offers you a new immersion into the fascinating, lurid, colorful, musically brilliant experience. It was first evoked in 1979, winning eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book and Best score. Stephen Sondheim wrote the songs, Hugh Wheeler the script.
It keeps returning. As a 2007 movie with Johnny Depp in the title role. And resurfacing in 2005 as a skeletal version wherein director John Doyle laid the bones bare, the nine-person cast wielding the only instruments in play.
At Chanticleer a cast of 33 takes it on with a six-member orchestra underpinned by three keyboards. Their sound conveys the essence of a score of operatic intensity; songs dominate the story. You may also note intimations of stark, aggressive works by Bertolt Brecht.
To remind you of what the tale tells, Sweeney is a London barber, unjustly convicted and forcibly exiled who, returning, vows revenge on Judge Turpin who undercut, slashed and wounded his life. Sweeney plans to cut his enemy’s throat in his tonsorial parlor, practicing his skill with other victims first. Their bodies become the main ingredients for meat pies sold in a downstairs shop run by Mrs. Lovett. Plus Sweeney’s young friend Anthony falls in love with Sweeney’s youthful daughter Johanna; she has become the Judge’s ward.
“There is more artistic energy, creative personality and plain excitement …than in a dozen average musicals…. Sondheim has composed an endlessly inventive, highly expressive score that works indivisibly from his brilliant and abrasive lyrics” wrote Richard Eder of the New York Times about the Broadway premiere.
Chanticleer has taken on other Sondheim masterpieces, most recently Assassins in 2014. Prior: A Little Night Music, Follies, Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George. The director/music director of this production is Laureen Pickle; she had leading roles in all of them. She’s been music director there for such shows as La Cage aux Folles, South Pacific and West Side Story and been stage director for many more at Bellevue Little Theater.
Regarding Sondheim, it seems superfluous to remind you of his extraordinary achievements other than to point to eight Tony Awards, eight Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
As for Hugh Wheeler, six years earlier he collaborated with Sondheim for multi-Tony winner A Little Night Music. One of the awards was his. And he got another for a re-working of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in the critically acclaimed 1974 version. He also wrote mystery stories as “Patrick Quentin” some of which became movies: Black Widow, Man in the Net, The Man With Two Wives and The Green-Eyed Monster. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/28/obituaries/hugh-wheeler-award-winning-playwright.html
Hold on to your seat, the madman with the razors is alive again.
Sweeney Todd performs Mar. 11-20 at Chanticleer Theater, 830 Franklin Avenue, Council Bluffs. Fri. Sat.: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets: $10-$20. www.chanticleertheater.com