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Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Delicious Melodrama

Address: 5420 Nave Drive, Suite C
Novato, CA 94949
Phone: 415-883-4498

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

Delicious Melodrama

(l. to r.) Alison Peltz as Mrs. Lovett, Bruce Vieira as Sweeney Todd and Fernando Siu as Tobias Ragg. Photo: Kristen Schutz

Review by Judith M. Wilson

An insatiable need for revenge, lust, greed and a diabolical plot make Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street a dark tale. It isn’t a downer though. Instead, with music by Stephen Sondheim and actors at the top of their form, it’s an engaging production from Novato Theater Company and Theatre-at-Large to lighten up NTC’s 100th season.

Sweeney Todd has good reason to be intent on revenge. Convicted of a crime he did not commit, he’s spent years abroad in exile, and as the story opens, he’s made his way back to London with a new identity and a mission. He’s determined to find his now-grown daughter, Johanna, and he intends to exact vengeance on the corrupt judge who victimized his wife, tore apart his family and ruined his life. He finds his opportunity, when in seeking a room, he meets Mrs. Lovett, the proprietor of the shop that makes the worst pies in London, and together they come up with a scheme that will satisfy Todd’s need for vengeance and rescue her failing business. A rich cast of characters and a series of coincidences, along with Sondheim’s tunes and his vision of Sweeney Todd as something of a morality tale that shows the destructive power of revenge, all contribute to the musical’s enduring success. It premiered on Broadway in 1979 , with score by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, and it won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score, among others.

Fernando Siu as Tobias Ragg and the Company. Photo: Mark Clark

The story is melodramatic with nightmarish songs and witty lines, and NTC’s able cast, with direction by Kim Bromley and Bruce Vieira make the most of it. Bruce Vieira is also the lead character, and he makes an imposing Todd, showing his pain and bringing passion to the role, as he shows how extreme his need for revenge has become. Alison Peltz is his equal as the scheming Mrs. Lovett, who eagerly enables Todd. It’s a well-rounded cast of singers/actors, which includes Julianne Bretan as Todd’s lost daughter Johanna, Cordell Wesselink as her suitor Anthony Hope, Charles Evans as the self-serving Judge Turpin and Tobias Ragg as Mrs. Lovett’s assistant Tobias Ragg. Jane Harrington turns in a heart-rending performance as the Beggar Woman, who is more than she seems. Live music, with direction by Judy Weisen, adds energy to the production, as does Marilyn Izdebski’s choreography.

Cordell Wesselink as Anthony Hope and Julianne Bretan as Johanna. Photo by Mark Clark

Chris McGregor’s scenic design is a two-floor set that’s integral to the show’s success, and it makes the transition from a variety of locations—barber shop to judge’s house on one level and bakery to madhouse on another—with ease. The costumes and make up are also key in creating characters from the seamy side of Victorian London. 

Sweeney Todd is the sum of its parts, and with attention to detail, NTC has created a finely-honed production that’s an autumn treat. It’s a lengthy show, approximately three hours with one intermission, but the story unfolds as it should, and it’s well worth the time.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays Thursday through Sunday until November 17. Performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday begin at 7:30 p.m., and the Sunday matinee starts at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, go to novatotheatercompany.org.

Alison Peltz as Mrs. Lovett and Bruce Vieira as Sweeney Todd. Photo by Mark Clark.