Catch one more weekend of ‘Sweeney Todd’ in Meadville

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 at 6:35 PM

If you haven’t seen the Meadville Academy Theatre’s rendition of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” make it a priority this weekend before the show wraps up. “Sweeney” is probably the 10th show I’ve seen at the Academy and by far, the best. Director Sue Wentz takes her position very seriously, and her efforts truly came through for the roughly two and a half hour show. 

The opening number, “Prelude/Opening Ballad,” introduces us to Sweeney and the dreary streets of London. Darrel Whitney, the actor who portrayed Sweeney Todd, was fierce and sported a rich, commanding voice. Returning from his exile by a corrupt judge who lusted after his wife, Whitney’s Todd scowled and plotted his revenge like he truly had been on an island for 20 years. A bit creepy, a bit burly, but mostly angry, Whitney tapped into the rage against the corrupt, making his descent to the dark side even more exaggerated after receiving those peculiar silver razors from Mrs. Lovett. 

Mrs. Lovett, played by Julia Kemp, was Sweeney’s perfectly bawdy sidekick. Her comic relief lightened the show many times, especially during her first scene, beating the dough for pies before breaking into “The Worst Pies in London.” Kemp brought lightness to such a wicked character, and although she had been deceiving Todd, you can’t help but feel for her when she gets thrown in the oven “Hansel and Gretel” style, all for the sake of love. 

Sixteen-year-olds Oliver Smith (Anthony Hope) and Madison Morgan (Johanna Barker) also put on outstanding performances. Their star-crossed love was an innocent escape in a place where murder was not only rampant, but baked into the locals’ food. Their vocals were incredibly strong considering their ages. Morgan’s vocal run during one of the numbers, I believe it was “Kiss Me,” brought me to tears because it was so fantastically executed and shocking to hear. 

The ensemble, dressed in steampunk and Victorian-inspired garb, also sang their lungs out. There were no hiccups and no voices left behind. Despite singing along with a CD playing the music, everyone sang right on time and did not overpower nor underwhelm the prerecorded tracks. 

The lights and production aspects ran smoothly and added a lot to the mood of the show. The colors of the lights matched the tone of the scenes, while the purples, yellows, reds and dark blues intensified the grisly drama. 

The set of the production was made to look like a London neighborhood, with a centerpiece that has three sides and is turned from scene to scene. It was two stories tall, with Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop and Sweeney Todd’s upstairs apartment/barbershop on one side, a parlor room on another side, and a storefront on the other. The dreary colors and home and storefronts skirting the rest of the stage looked authentic and professionally done. In addition, when the insane asylum scene came up, there was another backdrop, making it quite an elaborate production in terms of sets alone.

“Sweeney Todd” has one last weekend in Meadville. The shows on Friday, Oct. 19 and Saturday, Oct. 20 begin at 7:30 p.m., and the Sunday, Oct. 21 matinée show begins at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in person or online at theacademytheatre.org.

Livia Homerski can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

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