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Subject: Glimmerglass' SWEENEY TODD peroclates at PG rating (7/30/16)
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Date:Wed, 3 Aug 2016 14:59:02 +0000

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It's always a treat to have musical theater performed in an acoustically wonderful setting with no amplification and an orchestra of more than 40, which rarely happens these days on Broadway. The Glimmerglass Festival does just that with some excellent voices for sure, but falls a bit short in the drama and horror in this very mild, but at times fun, production by Christopher Alden. I don't mind the sets here which are a take on 1950's music hall England with the curtain rising on a community room with strings of plastic Union Jacks hung above and a V-shaped room tapering towards the rear The entire cast is munching pies and Mrs. Lovett in a waitress uniform in piled high platinum blonde hair and way overdone eye make-up is a hoot at a long table with a plastic flowery tablecloth; our Beggar Woman is a bag lady with sunglasses and a kerchief on her head. 

I have always jumped at the opening whistle and even in the front row it was mild; I was worried there would be no blood or real throat-slitting, and indeed that was the case, but at least the singers gave us their best in a fun production that got even better in Act II. 

Conductor John DeMain 
Director Christopher Alden 
Choreographer Eric Sean Fogel 
Sets Andrew Holland 
Costumes Terese Wadden 
Lighting Robert Wierzel 
Hair & Makeup J. Jared Janas & Dave Bova 
Projected Titles Kelley Rourke 

Sweeney Todd Greer Grimsley 
Mrs. Lovett Luretta Bybee 
Anthony Hope Harry Greenleaf 
Johanna Emily Pogorelc 
Tobias Ragg Nicholas Nestorak 
Judge Turpin Peter Volpe 
Beggar Woman Patricia Schuman 
Adolfo Pirelli Christopher Bozeka 
Beadle Bamford Bille Bruley 

The cast got their costumes from coat racks on the side and assumed their roles accordingly. Sweeney was in a worn saggy grey jacket, grey sweater vest and grey pants, Anthony was in a sailor suit. When the story is told, "There was a Barber and His Wife" Johanna actually acts the part of her mother with the Judge & Beadle, which I liked. 
When Mrs. Lovett offers her pie to Sweeney, he belches hugely and spits it into the garbage which was a truly wonderful effect. 
As Sweeney sings, "My Friends..." to his razors they are brought on stage in a box lit from within and passed across the stage by the entire cast to reach him at the other side, and Mr. Grimsley's "At last my right arm is complete," was a huge bellow that was one of the few things that scared me. The entire chorus' "raise your razor high, Sweeney" filled the house with amazing splendor. 
"Green Finch & Linnet Bird" gave Ms. Pogorelc her chance to shine and she did, albeit with three people sitting on the table sporting huge bird's heads bobbing up and down which was truly ridiculous. Mr.Greenleaf was truly excellent in "I'll Steal You Johanna," and truly perfectly cast here. 
Our Toby arrives in a Beatles wig, long slim microphone in hand (think Match Game on TV) and a double breasted bell-bottomed multi-coloured psychedelic suit. He is joined by a show-girl with a tray of elixir bottles (she reminded me of the movie ushers from long ago, but with Vegas skimpy costumes). The rear of the "V" structure opens to allow Pirelli to enter looking like a cross between Elvis and Liberace in a Vegas glitter cape and suit holding giant scissors with glitter blue shoes to match, not to mention his wallet in blue sparkle. 
I loved Mrs. Lovett's pronunciation of the Italian "signor" as SIG-nor. The first murder has Pirelli still on stage with his coat covering him as Toby walks in, which just seemed wrong. The problem arose here of how to dispose of the bodies, and in this production, for me, it was not believable. 
Mr. Volpe's Judge was a beautiful bass, but mild in temperament for sure. His reflections on Johanna were barely nasty and frankly he came off as less evil than he should be. "Pretty Women" was a revelation as again the voices were superb. 
At his point my son wrote, "Sets boring" on my note page and I had to agree, while cute at the start, they were getting tired. 
For the famous finale, Sweeney & Lovett donned pearly king & queen jackets and caps with his having "Sweet Vengeance" on the back and her's "London's Finest" and a fork with "Meat Pies" on her bag which did brighten up the scene in this most wonderful of songs. 

Act II had Toby in fancy white tie waiter outfit with a long white apron and I had a hard time believing this man was a teen or even close. Mrs. Lovett was in a sparkly blue gown with even more make-up and more blonde hair piled high. Fabric wallpaper was on one side and the harmonium had been moved up front. The barber chair arrives and is quite stunning but just sits there with no trap underneath; perhaps the stage here could not accommodate that option, which was a true shame. As the patrons come from the table at the right where they eat their pies with bibs on under a sign that says "Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pies-A Little Heart in Every Bite" (check my FB page for photo) they are summarily slaughtered as one of the choristers (a guy in women's dress with plastic gloves) throws a bucket of blood on the wall. 
"By the Sea" was cute where Mrs. Lovett removes her white robe to reveal a striped bathing costume with bloomers and frills as she grabs a big plastic beach ball. 
Anthony dons a fur coat, fake mustache and floppy hat to go to the asylum which truly looked ridiculous. 
Toby's "Nothing's Gonna Hurt You" was beautifully delivered, but again, the role needs someone extremely youthful and naive. 
In the basement scene Mrs. Lovett speaks of a grinder that is not there and the oven is missing too until the very end when it appears at the rear, a larger than normal white 1950's appliance. For "City on Fire" the chorus is at the front with straightjackets on and the walls have all now been divided up to separate the stage and give a feel of confusion and no place specific. When the Judge is killed the guy (lady) with the pail throws the bucket at the audience, but it is empty; I was a bit nervous for sec there. When Sweeney sings, "Rest now" the chorister who first gave him the blades returns to place them back in the box. 
The end comes quickly and for the finale we find the chorus back in the community room with the table and flags hanging as they stab their forks into the plastic plates. 

Overall, it was our least favorite performance of the weekend just because it lacked impact and did not scare us, which interestingly enough was the subject of the "Conversation with Stephen Sondheim & Jamie Bernstein" held right after. He said that Sweeney must scare us, and sadly, this one did not, despite the excellent singing. 

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC 

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