Theatrical, Spooky And Very Entertaining

The beauty of "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is its intense theatricality.

This lurid tale of a wronged and injured barber who slits his customers' throats and grinds up the corpses for his lover's meat pies just would not work, no matter how great Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics, unless this musical (opera, really) were fertile ground for every stage trick in the book: atmospheric backdrops, stunning lights, rolling fog, marvels of orchestration, a little vaudeville, a little romance, mistaken identities, buckets of blood, really buckets, and, of course, a trap door.

Like a fairy tale, it is evil without consequence, to us, anyway. It is worst fears confirmed and dispatched. It is dreadful and funny and entertaining. And the Centerstage production of this 29-year-old masterpiece nails it.

At the heart of all this theatricality, of course, is a cast of terrific actors who can sing. Or terrific singers who can act.

Joy Covert is perfectly sly and witty as Mrs. Lovett, a woman who sees all this carnage as a business opportunity. Her pies, so horrible, as she tells us at the outset of "Sweeney Todd," are a big hit with this new meat filling.

And Gary Munch actually gets us to pity the poor barber who was deported to prison in Australia by Judge Turpin (Michael Datorre) who wanted Lucy, Todd's wife, for himself.Sweeney, a man who "never forgets and never forgives" is wrecked by grief and loss and towering rage. And though serial and persistent mayhem seems over the top to most of us, this is a man at wit's end. Destroyed and unrecoverable.

The entire cast is skilled, particularly Chris Tillson as Tobias, a needy fellow who does the whole plot in, finally, and Doug Liepshutz as Anthony, a sailor who got the whole plot going by somehow saving Todd at sea in the first place. And, of course, Datorre's judge, who can simulate all sorts of deviant stuff on stage and is smooth, evil and despicable, is a marvel up there.

The look of the stage is almost another character, and Richard Prouse's stunning backdrop of London's belching chimney pots and St. Paul's Cathedral is terrific. So is Jonathan Tunick's original orchestration for Sweeney Todd, which knits the whole odd and stumbling story into a tight drama. The orchestra, seated onstage throughout behind a scrim, does all the right stuff and so does Andy Weintraub's lighting.

This is an inspired production of a highly odd and very theatrical piece. And don't miss the meat pies at intermission. The filling is delicious.



Sweeney Todd plays at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck through Jan. 27. For tickets, call 45-876-3080, or go to


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