A Diabolical “Sweeney Todd” Awaits You at A Noise Within

theatre review

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Cassandra Marie Murphy and Geoff Elliott in
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Cassandra Marie Murphy and Geoff Elliott in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at A Noise Within.

The deliriously dark story of “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” set to the astonishing score of Stephen Sondheim is now on stage in an unabashedly theatrical and spectacular production at A Noise Within. It is 1785 in London as a mysterious man disembarks a ship along with a young sailor he has befriended on his voyage. While the young man sees London as a place full of wonder, the older, Sweeney Todd, sees it as a “great, black pit” full of evil people who turn beauty into filth and greed. He’s a man with a story and vengeance to exact. We will eventually find out the tragic story of the barber and his wife as Todd meets a down-on-her-luck baker, sets up his new tonsorial shop above her pie shop and devises his plan for revenge.

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Geoff Elliott and the cast of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at A Noise Within.
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Geoff Elliott and the cast of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at A Noise Within.

Sondheim called the piece a “dark operetta”, with the majority of the action sung, a lush and complicated score requiring much from any company. This Julia Rodriguez-Elliott directed production delivers on all fronts, from soaring vocals to the haunting make-up, costume and production design, it is a show that takes you on a chilling thrill-ride.

A bare bones orchestra of two pianos and a cellist sounds surprisingly full as they are placed upstage of the action on the ominous and spare Francois-Pierre Couture set. For a bloody story of revenge and murder, there is little blood on stage here – instead Rodriguez-Elliott opts for theatricality in the way of dramatic lighting, loud music cues, and billowing white parachutes to represent the killing and bloodshed. It is incredibly effective – I would venture to say even more so than any stage blood could conjure. It also features one of the most clever stagings of the most entertaining number, “A Little Priest”, I’ve ever seen, featuring Todd and his cohort, Mrs. Lovett, playfully singing on and around a piano as if in a cabaret.

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PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Cassandra Marie Murphy and Geoff Elliott in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at A Noise Within.
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Cassandra Marie Murphy and Geoff Elliott in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at A Noise Within.

The cast sounds fantastic and it is always a treat to hear a Sondheim score done well. The absolutely luminous Cassandra Marie Murphy is a standout and is pure joy to watch as the effervescent, conniving, lovesick baker, Mrs. Lovett. It’s not a surprise, as Murphy turned in an unforgettable performance as Aldonza in ANW’s “Man of La Mancha”, but she is unrecognizably transformed as Mrs. Lovett and  practically steals the show. Both new to ANW, is Joanna A. Jones as Sweeney’s daughter, Johanna and James Everts as young sailor, Anthony Hope. Jones brings a delightful innocence and lovely soprano to the role while Everts is earnest and full of optimism. Their duet “Kiss Me” is a frenetically beautiful expression of young love and Everts’ rendition of “Johanna” is everything you want it to be.

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Joanna A. Jones and James Everts in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at A Noise Within.
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Joanna A. Jones and James Everts in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at A Noise Within.

The brilliant Kasey Mahaffy is hysterical and having a ball as the “Italian” huckster, Pirelli. He makes the absolute most of this role. Jeremy Rabb is decidedly sinister as Judge Turpin and yet manages to evoke sympathy in the beautiful duet “Pretty Women” – always a highlight in this show and both Rabb and Geoff Elliott as Sweeney are at their very best on this song. Elliott’s deeper tones are most effective in the more human moments as in this duet and the Priest number with Murphy, which makes the most of his giddy playfulness. He brings a vulnerability and sadness to the role that is palpable, which is very affecting, while not always as menacing as the role could be.

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Josey Montana McCoy, Cassandra Marie Murphy and The Ensemble of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at A Noise Within.
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | The South Pasadenan | Josey Montana McCoy, Cassandra Marie Murphy and The Ensemble of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at A Noise Within.

Rounding out the cast is an energetic and charming Josey Montana McCoy as Tobias, who has one of the prettiest and well-known songs, “Not While I’m Around”, Amber Liekhus gives a powerful performance as the Beggar Woman and Harrison White is the right amount of oily as the ingratiating Beadle.

It’s fun to see ANW sink their teeth into this macabre spectacle of a musical – reminiscent of some of their most popular productions like “Man of La Mancha” and “Threepenny Opera” – we are lucky to have and be able to grow with a resident repertory company where we get to know their actors over years and welcome new ones. This show puts all of their strengths as a company on full display while providing a bloody good time.

Sweeney Todd runs through March 17 at A Noise Within, located at 3352 E Foothill Blvd., PasadenaCA 91107. Sweeney Todd is recommended for ages 14 and up. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (6263563100 or go to www.anoisewithin.org.

Nine student matinees will take place on weekday mornings at 10:30 a.m. Interested educators should email education@anoisewithin.org.

Tickets start at $29. Student tickets start at $18. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.