SWEENEY TODD is one of those musicals people either love or hate. There is a lot to love about the Premier Centre for the Arts’ current production of Stephen Sondheim’s dark comedy: a solid cast, strong singing and excellent staging. Set in a black box theater, the show’s creepiness is right on top of the audience.
Eric Paris (Sweeney) draws us into his disturbed, disjointed world immediately. His emotional detachment from his past and his surroundings is unsettling, yet we gain insight into his suffering as he sings about his lost daughter in Epiphany. Sweeney’s cohort, Mrs. Lovett, is played saucily by Missy Grynkiewicz-also the show’s director. Mrs. Lovett’s level of evil is just one notch above Sweeney’s, and she coaxes out the very worst in him. Even as Tobias Ragg (Wyatt Neff) sings to Mrs. Lovett about his blind devotion to her in Not While I’m Around, she dreams of profits and meat pies made from human flesh. Neff is beguiling and completely natural on stage. His cockney accent is authentic, and his commanding singing voice captivating. Neff is clearly one to watch.
Ashley Ball is adorable and funny as the self-absorbed Italian barber, Pirelli. Also notable is Nick Manerchia as The Beadle: His voice is dynamic and has a wide range. Cody Munzert (Judge Turpin) does double duty in this show, as both a fine actor and the show’s musical director. Nina Hayes-McGuane makes a lovely Johanna, the caged love of Anthony Hope (Steve Dow). Dow’s performance is earnest, as it should be: he plays one of the few honest characters in the drama. As the Beggar Woman, Carrie Chen is moving in her portrayal of a sad and broken creature.
Sondheim’s music is tightly woven, the ensembles rich and the lyrics witty. Lovett and Sweeney’s duet, A Little Priest, which catalogues the culinary subtleties of human flesh is hilarious, “shepherd’s pie, with actual shepherd peppered on top” and “politician so oily, it’s served with a doily”.
Be sure to taste the meat pies!
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Libretto by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Missy Grynkiewicz
October 22 – November 7
Premier Centre for the Arts
27 Anderson Street
Middletown, DE 19709