Hoots of delight and robust applause peppered Opera Saratoga’s opening night of “Sweeney Todd — The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” on Wednesday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The three-hour musical was a huge success.
With music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, the dark tale of revenge and murder tittilates and bubbles with humor even as some of the most wonderful songs soar.
Premiered in 1979, the show never grows old and this production reveled in finding creative visual ways to keep the action fast paced and lively. Give credit for that to director Stephen Nachamie for his excellent blocking, especially of the large chorus numbers and their placement as well as Ben Pilat’s varied lighting.
But musicals are about singing and this cast could not have been better. With headliners like Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone Craig Colclough as Sweeney Todd and Albany native and acclaimed Broadway musical star Carolee Carmello as Mrs. Lovett, the show was off and running.
At first, the large crowd was a bit mystified. The 30 or so piece orchestra was on stage and there were no sets, only risers that surrounded the orchestra in a U-shape. Chorus members in Victorian dress designed by Glenn Avery Breed wandered about. Then with a huge organ chord, the show began. Aah … the action would take place in front of the orchestra and on the risers. As the plot thickened, a few props appeared seamlessly: a table, some chairs and later Todd’s barber chair.
Sweeney was there from the beginning and Colclough projected great presence. A white streak in his black hair seemed almost menacing. His big, deep, round resonant voice was lustrous; his acting was intense, driven and very focused.
When Carmello entered, the crowd immediately clapped and cheered. And she was quite marvelous. Singing and speaking with a Cockney inflection, she edged her voice to project and acted superbly. The crowd was with her all the way, especially when she got the idea of what to do with Todd’s victims. Talk about waiting with baited breath.
While this was her company debut as well as Colclough’s, Carmello had done this role five years ago and had time to refine her portrayal. But the magnetism between them was so dynamic, that the lack of anything of visual interest like a colorful set was not felt.
But everyone in the other roles acted and sang terrifically, and many were from the company’s young artist program. Tenor Brian Yeakley as an Italian mountebank and an early Todd victim brimmed with comic style and a soaring voice. Tenor Morgan Mastrangelo as the young Toby sang with clarity and much feeling. Soprano Angela Yam as Todd’s beautiful blonde daughter Johanna had a huge, clear voice.
This is also not an easy show to stage. The music is through composed, which means there were no breaks or barely a few bars of not playing for the orchestra. Laura Bergquist conducted the fabulous sounding players with a tight, sure hand.
But the action was fast-paced, everyone was at the top of their game — even the throat cuttings had blood spurts — and the crowd cheered and jumped to its feet at the end.
The show also will be performed tonight (Thursday, June 30) at 7:30.