Monday, September 10, 2007

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Just a quick note to say that the new American Conservatory Theater production of the Sondheim classic is a mind blow. As I have noted before, my critical abilities in music pretty much stop and start with what I like. So, I like it. I like it a lot.

What do I like about it? Well, the music is just transfixing. Ya gotta wonder if this Sondheim guy ever did anything else ... hmmm. It was jarring and seductive. It had me on the edge of my seat and recoiling at the same time. And how can you not thrill to a performance where the players sing and play instruments and move like cats on a crowded stage, and act to boot. Every time the fetching Tobias put his 17th-century violin down on the stage, I was terrified that someone would step on it. But like a bunch of pixies, this spectacular cast sashayed around the obstacles and came to attention on a dime, ready for the next number. Cellos flew from hand to hand, clarinets appeared from nowhere, trumpets exploded, and the violin became a fiddle and then a violin again all within a phrase. The one loose horsehair in the violinist's bow dazzled in the pointilist lighting.

That horsehair was attached to the puckishly pranching and froggily leaping Edmund Bagnell as Tobias who plays a sly and uncomprehending narrator to perfection. The superbly professional and riotously funny Judy Kaye as Mrs. Lovett dominated the set and sutured the actions into one breathing bloody bossy bold protoplasm of a play. I thrilled to the classic tones of Lauren Molina as Johanna and the eery Diana DiMarzio as the Beggar Woman ... you want to ignore her, you want her to go away, but she insists and insists, and turns the play on its head just when you least expect it. David Hess as Sweeney Todd was dark and demonic and obsessive ... sort of like a Hummer owner turned loose on an innocent planet.

But the most overwhelming part remained the dizzying choreography. For a sports fan, it was like a protracted bootleg where misdirection creates waves of action all over the field. I'd see the thing again just to watch the movement. Of course, the music enchants ... it drowns you in its creepiness and its sinister drubbing. So how could even the practiced fan stop his mind long enough just to watch the motion.

So that is lavish praise. And I really liked it.

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