I am reading Dickens’ “Bleak House,” a book that came to mind at SLOC’s thoroughly engrossing “Sweeney Todd.” Both concern Victorian London’s stratified social system against which Dickens railed and which largely explains the behavior of this musical’s demonic hair-cutter, Sweeney Todd (Michael A. Bellotti).
From the opening numbers, shrouded in fog (the opening weather element in Dickens) and shadow, we know that mayhem is afoot. Moreover, both stories are peopled with vivid characters; the musical has 21 performers, with 12 ensemble members acting like a Greek chorus here and sharply drawn cameos elsewhere.
‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St.
WHEN: 8:00 PM, Thursday-Saturday; 2:00 PM, Sunday
HOW MUCH: $28-$22
MORE INFO: 877.350.7378, or sloctheater.org
Kudos first, then, to the huge technical team that director Rachael Sheffer has assembled to create the claustrophobic atmosphere in which these characters move, an atmosphere echoing the tight-knit plot of revenge that strangles them.
Praise next to Sheffer and music director Michael Lotano, who have brought to grim life Hugh Wheeler’s book and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics & score. The cast ably negotiates the thickly textured music that’s always in search of a tonic chord, and their diction is impeccable, doing justice to Sondheim’s love of wordplay and irony. There’s no better example than the duet between Todd and Mrs. Lovett (Molly Rose McGrath) in the cock-eyed waltz “A Little Priest.”
SLOC is, obviously, a light opera organization; so much of the strength of this production lies in the voices and the superb orchestral support. For example, James Alexander (in an unfortunate costume and hat, alas) and Casey Ryan Gray have ringing tenors, just right, respectively, for the malevolent Beadle and con man Pirelli. As the Beggar Woman, Heather-Liz Copps lends her strong voice to the Act II quartet “Johanna.”
Michael J. Murphy as wicked Judge Turpin — the source of Todd’s troubles and the man from whom Todd wants payback — makes the most of his chilling solo, “Johanna”; and he and Bellotti are equally scary in “Pretty Women.”
The young lovers are played by Sarah-Jane Fawcett and the winning Tyler Thomas, whose playful delivery of “Kiss Me” is the chaste antidote to the lip-smacking behavior of nearly every other character.
Marc de la Concha’s sad eyes and sweet demeanor make Tobias—a kind of flotsam on the foggy Thames—a soul you root for. De la Concha emotionally stops the show with “Not While I’m Around.”
Finally, the gifted Bellotti and McGrath. Both have anchored many musicals before, and they do so here, subtly chronicling the opposing life trajectories of the murderous duo: she emerges from her shell when he appears, and for a brief time they are lovers in sync.
Soon, however, preoccupied by revenge, he retreats into himself, and she is left with longing. Physically, vocally and dramatically, Bellotti and McGrath deliver performances of surpassing complexity.
The script of “Sweeney Todd” might be faulted for its length. So, too, with Dickens. But what richness of inspiration and what talent at SLOC!