By Jp Sisneros
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim is a staple in the musical theater repertoire. It’s known for its notorious score and game changing subject matter that wasn’t seen on Broadway prior. The show has gone through many different iterations since its premier, with several Broadway revivals, concert versions, multiple productions in the D.C. area, and the infamous Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version you either love or hate. How can you make the show stand out in a crowded market? Director Jason Loewith of the Olney Theatre’s version tries, but in the end the production falls short. The grand arduous show felt more like a filler show during Olney’s already ambitious season.
The play tells the story of a barber seeking revenge on a corrupt political figure interested in his blonde ward. Sweeney then aligns with a lonely pie shop owner, Mrs. Lovett, to make meat pies out of human flesh. Yum! I won’t spoil the bloody conclusion.
E. Faye Butler plays a fantastic Mrs. Lovett with her great comedic timing and fantastic puffy sleeves. Her illustrious presence on stage overpowered that of her counterpart David Beniot, who plays Sweeney Todd. Beniot’s baritone voice, however, is impeccable.
The rest of the cast is what left me perplexed. First, the casting of Beadle Bamford, the Judges’ right hand man and bully, cast as a female did not work. I commend actress Rachael Zampelli for working with the role she was given, but this choice came off as super comical and ruined the tension that the score and musical create.
Other characters include a manic Joanne (Gracie Jones), a robotic and overacted Anthony (Jobari Parker-Namdar), another miscast Tobias (Michael J. Mainwaring) who fantastically sung “Not While I’m Around,” and a pleasant judge and beggar woman (Thomas Adrian Simpson and Patricia Hurley). The ensemble all have amazing voices, but the female ensemble was the most spectacular, while the male ensemble all seemed rather bland.
The set by Milagros Ponce de León lacks in originality. The lighting by Colin K. Bills was outstanding, and costumes by Seth Gilbert were good. A special shout out goes to Christopher Youstra and the fantastic orchestra and for coordinating all the fabulous voices on stage.
The highlight of the show has to be Frank Viveros and his portrayal of Adolfo Pirelli. Fabulous from start to finish, Viveros shines with his mind-blowing voice and uproarious depiction.
Sweeney Todd at Olney Theatre is just fine. Riddled with an interesting cast and lacking originality, the actors worked hard with what they were given. If you’re looking for a brake from all the politically charged shows now playing in D.C., it’s not a bad option.