‘Sweeney Todd’ drips in murder, mayhem and madness in highly credible production

CRAIG THOMPSON - Pictured: Ensemble in “God That’s Good” (Ive Gaines, Nick Fant, Emma Smullen, Tia Maxfield, Felicia Lopez, Logan McTure, Deanna Payne, Shakil Azizi, Isabelle Baucum, Jennica Dotson & Kelly Anderson)

All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.

Maya Wesby, a student at Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts, reviews “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (School Edition), performed by Fairfax High School , as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

Actors garbed as Victorian zombies creep onto the stage. They pause, seemingly preparing to attack, but strike a tableau instead. Gradually, they begin to relive their miseries in song. Any musical lover will recognize the eerie graveyard sequence at the start of Fairfax High School’s production of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (School Edition).

Set in 19th century London, Sweeney Todd debuted on Broadway in 1979 and has been revived multiple times, including in a popular 2007 film adaptation starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The musical tells the story of barber Sweeney Todd (formerly known as Benjamin Barker) and his quest for revenge against Judge Turpin, who exiled Todd for fifteen years to an Australian prison so Judge Turpin could have access to Todd’s wife Lucy. Upon return to London, Todd forms an alliance with a pie maker named Mrs. Lovett. Together, they make delicious meat pies using a secret ingredient: the flesh of Todd's murdered customers.

In the lead role of Sweeney Todd, Reggie Herold drives the performance from the moment he steps out of the coffin at the top of the show. His dark portrayal of the vengeful barber is dominant, yet Herold also captures different emotional layers of Todd as well, particularly in “My Friends,” when he holds his sharp tools and blissfully imagines the vengeful possibilities that lie in store.

Another carrier of the show is Alexandra Nicopoulos as the fantastical character of Mrs. Lovett. Her out-of-the-box acting includes a hauntingly believable accent, but her vocals are her most notable achievement. She practically masters the ranges and various pitches expected in a Sondheim piece, and her light-hearted talent loveably contrasts with Herold’s required ominous personality.

Additional notable characters in the show include a Beggar Woman played by Megan Cathro, who displays consistency in her character, despite varying from a seemingly sweet beggar to a crazed flirt. Marissa Kovach, who plays Todd’s daughter Johanna, displays lovely, operatic vocals, causing the audience to forget they are watching a high school production. 

A rising star is seventh grader Jacob Lamb as the energetic and delightful Toby. Not only is his acting phenomenal for his age (his transformation from a humble servant to a delusional misfit is almost creepy in its honesty), but Lamb's vocals in songs such as “Magical Elixir” place him above most of the cast.  Deanna Payne also excels as the flamboyant Italian barber Pirelli.

Technical aspects of the show help create the world of Sweeney Todd. The ghoulish make-up of the ensemble reinforces the gloomy atmosphere, and Victorian-era costumes make the musical all the more realistic. Although a few sound and lighting cues were off on opening night, the orchestra flawlessly pulled through and helped the actors perform through the errors.

Sweeney Todd is a demanding musical, but Fairfax High School’s production shows that young actors can tackle and deliver even the seemingly impossible challenge of Sondheim.

 
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