Meaty Performances in T&C’s SWEENEY TODD

by Lesley Grigg

Michael Schiumo as Sweeney Todd and Valerie Sharper as Mrs. Lovett in Town and Country’s SWEENEY TODD.

A dark, minimalist set blanketed in a light fog and enhanced with ominous piano background music is what audiences experience right before the ear-piercing opening of Town and Country Players’ production of SWEENEY TODD.

At first, you wouldn’t think Sweeney Todd (Michael Schiumo) is a “demon barber of Fleet Street.” We learn of his personal loss and tribulations, but his story portrays him as a mourning father and husband, not someone who would murder unsuspecting men looking for a shave. Schiumo has the right low resonating voice to produce both sorrow and menace. He also does well in transitioning from grieving family man to enthusiastic business partner to crazed mad man throughout the play.Todd plays partner to pie maker, Mrs. Lovett (Valerie Sharper), who is more than happy to improve both her personal and professional life. One thing needing a little more improvement is her accent. Sharper gives this maker of meat pies hints of a British accent, but at times it sounded like we were back on this side of the pond. Both Sharper and Schiumo seem to genuinely enjoy themselves during their menu-making in “A Little Priest,” and while the performance was entertaining, the song itself is a few verses too long.

Anthony Hope (Glenn Kraft) and Johanna (Diana Allen) also dazzled during their duets. The young lovers exuded longing and hope, but their performances were also lacking at times. Allen’s sweet melodic voice was mesmerizing until a more operatic high note was hit and changed the mood from dark musical to over-dramatic opera.

Tobias Ragg (Gavin Becker) dramatic mood changed from young impressionable apprentice to concerned adopted son to tormented mind. His level of mental suffering at the end was not only understandable, but believable. Adolfo Pirelli (John Zimmerman) was as comprehensible—with one of the best foreign accents of the play—as he was entertaining. The biggest disappointment was that he was not in the play more. Other notable performances were given by Judge Turpin (Tony Zortea), The Beadle (Justin Derry), and the saucy yet vigilant Beggar Woman (Melissa Angelo-Schiumo).

One of the best performances by a set piece goes to the barber chair. Its special-effect function not only added something extra to the scene, but it set the bar high for set construction in community theater. If only some of the blocking was as impressive. Some of the most pivotal moments in the second act happened on the stage floor, out of view for a majority of audience members. Some song lyrics were also lost by cast members singing various lines at the same time. While this technique was used throughout the play, it was more distracting when the chorus was involved.

By Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Nancy Ridgeway and Don Tenenblatt
November 2-17, 2012
Town and Country Players
4158 York Rd.
Buckingham, PA

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