I think all musical theater fans have those shows they’ve heard about but haven’t actually seen. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is one of those shows for me. I have seen the movie with Johnny Depp (and think it is one of the better Tim Burton movie of the last decade or so) but never seen the show. Fortunately I got a chance to check it off my musical theater bucket list last week at the West Valley Arts Center. I have now seen 3 shows at this center and this was by far the best. In fact, I think it was quite the triumph!
Sweeney Todd is a musical from 1979 with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. This musical sticks out because of its macabre themes and bloody dark comedy (which usually isn’t my thing but it’s so outlandish I enjoyed it).
It tells the story of Benjamin Barker who seeks vengeance on the man and community that killed his wife and subjugated his daughter to a miserable existence, by slashing their throats and turning them into pies. He is assisted in this grisly endeavor by his old friend Mrs. Lovett who has saved his old collection of sterling silver razors for the occasion.
In the meantime, Barker’s friend Anthony has fallen in love with Barker’s daughter, Johanna, who is the ward of his nemesis Judge Turpin. As Barker goes down this pathway of deception and revenge he becomes more obsessed and mad, and we get to see it all play out on the stage!
Sweeney Todd is obviously a darker show than I typically see but there are softer moments such as my favorite song of the show “Johannah” and Kaden Caldwell does a beautiful job singing it. The show can also be quite funny such as when Mrs Lovett (performed brilliantly by Casey Matern) sings “A Little Priest”.
I’ve seen 3 shows at West Valley Arts since I started my theater quest after being vaccinated and Sweeney Todd is by far the best. Everything was top rate from the production design to the costuming. I’ve never seen the show performed before but it is hard for me to imagine it being done much better. J. Michael Bailey is wonderful as Sweeney Todd/Barker and like I said Matern is fantastic as Mrs Lovett. I also loved Rachel Bigler as Johanna and Thomas Brandley as Tobias Ragg. Every role was great even smaller roles like Dan Radford as Adolfo Pirelli and Josh Egbert as Judge Turpin. It’s also incredible the show is single cast so they are putting on this show, with all its gusto and energy, nearly every night for a month! It broke my heart to see the theater with so many empty seats. I know it’s a new theater but hopefully the world will get spread that this production is fantastic.
I hope West Valley Arts will keep putting on edgier shows so the can stand apart from the other venues. This production of Sweeney Todd is definitely their sweet spot and if you can get out to see it it’s running until Oct 2nd, you won’t regret it.
9 out of 10