Of all the great musicals, the one I have been dying to see live is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. How could I not? The excellent music, the gothic costumes and particularly, the gory effects have always fascinated me and I’ve always wanted to see how they pull it off on stage.
Fortunately, the wonderful Pieter Toerien Productions have brought Sweeney Todd to the Theatre on the Bay stage and my time finally arrived. As Sweeney Todd is one of my all time favourites, I had extremely high expectations. Everything from the set to the singing had to be outstanding; anything less would not do. To say the show exceeded my expectations would be a huge understatement. It was beyond perfect. I was so overwhelmed by how incredible it was, I almost cried.
For those who are not familiar with the story, here is a quick summary. A barber named Benjamin Barker returns to London from exile under the name Sweeney Todd. His goal – to take revenge on Judge Turpin, who banished him in a plot to steal his wife. He teams up with the pie maker, Mrs Lovett, and together they go on a mutually beneficial killing spree. Warning: It’s filled with dark humour, violence and blood.
From the moment the first note began, I was in awe. The music that is so familiar to me sounded much better live. The amazing voices of the entire cast gave me goosebumps. The chorus who doubled up as citizens in the town laid a solid foundation for the play and each and every actor played their role to perfection. I cannot stress enough how extraordinary the choreography and signing is.
This together with a wonderful set ensured everything ran smoothly. In an instant, you are transported from the streets of London, into Mrs Lovett’s pie shop with the use of clever props and quick feet. The lighting design of the show greatly aided these changes. While you are focused on the haunting singing of the chorus, who faces are lit up in the creepiest way, the background changes for the next scene. The set as a whole is a triumph on its own.
As for the leads, Jonathan Roxmouth and Charon Williams-Ros, essays could be written about their phenomenal performances. Williams-Ros who play Mrs Lovett is sincere, cheeky and funny. She brings Mrs Lovett to life in spectacular fashion. Roxmouth looked as if he was born to play Sweeney Todd. His height, movement and constantly grim facial expression is so intimidating. His powerful voice booms through you, making you feel his anger, glee and frustration. Every time he had someone in his chair, with a blade in his hand, it felt as if the whole audience stopped breathing in anticipation of what he would do.
The biggest reason I wanted to watch Sweeney Todd live was the effects. If you hadn’t guessed by now, quite a few throat slittings take place. I strained my eyes to see some sort of blood-filled pouch or button that released red liquid as Sweeney cut his victim’s throats, but didn’t see any. It looks so real, and there were gasps every time this occurred. Literally every single component of this play was amazing and it all came together to create one of the best productions I have seen in years.
An audience member who sat behind me summed it up best. He (an Englishman, judging from his accent) said that this was just as good as anything he has seen on the West End. That is the caliber of this show, and you get to see it right here at a fraction of the cost. All musical lovers need to see this show. In fact, everyone needs to see it. It’s really that good!
Photography courtesy Theatre on the Bay