Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sweeny Todd at the Ahmanson

The show is the star in the new Sweeny Todd tour that came through the Ahmanson that I saw last night. Although there are some terrific performances in the piece, especially Judy Kaye in the deliciously devilish roll of Ms. Lovett, it is really the mind's eye of the designer/director John Doyle that shines through. And thank goodness. This is a very stylish, thoughtful piece that manipulates you down to every beat. This can only be done with a show that has a history of success and an already solidified pedigree in our consciousness. It seems to have come from the "let's do Richard III as if it were taking place in Natzi Germany" or "let's do a take on Romeo and Juliet that takes place in LA with fast cars, automatic weapons and beautiful youth." If we were not already familiar with the storyline, I am not sure we could appreciate all the thoughtful "variations on the original theme" that are taking place in this version.

That being said, it was wonderful to be in the theater and be challenged to concentrate on what was being delivered. This was not a Disney film turned Broadway musical that we know the ending before we start. This was an evening of clever surprises to what was coming next. Questions like, "how are they going to deal with all the blood that can be in this show?" - very effectively handled by slowly pouring a dark red liquid from one small white pail into another in a demonstration of symbolism (something I'm sure the stage hands appreciated). "How will they deal with the usually complicated barber's chair?" - again handled with the deceivingly simplistic use of a coffin, but broken down and arranged in intricate pieces to suggest the horrors to follow - and forces our participation as our imaginations take over to fill in the gory details.

The only detriment to the show in my book was all this thoughtful manipulation made the show almost too cerebral, demanding our respect, but not quite drawing us in. At the conclusion of the piece, I think everyone was duly impressed will all the talents on stage and the precision of the procedure, but my dentist's deft hand also demands my respect, but it still doesn't make my teeth feel better after a deep cleaning.


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