A Close Shave

For the UAS Whalesong

I gained an interest in Sweeney Todd well before I came to college. It was around that time that my fascination with    angry men with dubious morals and homicidal tendencies was at its peak – I had seen the 2004 version of Phantom of the Opera (as well as reading the original Leroux novel and Susan Kay spinoff), as well as the movie V for Vendetta. So when I found out that there was yet another story about a similar character, I was intrigued. However, for various reasons, I never listened to the soundtrack or saw the musical (even after the film version starring Johnny Depp came out). And, after someone spoiled the ending for me in my freshman year theater appreciation class, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it. But then Perseverance Theater decided to put on a performance, and a lot of my friends went and came back with rave reviews, making me determine that the Time Had Come for me to see if Sweeney Todd was everything I had wanted it to be over the years.

But first – for those of you who have perhaps not seen Tim Burton’s 2007 film adaptation and are curious as to what Sweeney Todd is even about – a bit of plot summary. The musical warns “To seek revenge may lead to Hell, but everyone does it (though seldom as well as Sweeney Todd).” Returning to London after being wrongfully convicted of a crime and sentenced to life in Australian prison, Todd wants revenge on the man who did him wrong – Judge Turpin, a skeevy man with skeevier motives. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you this: entering the theater, I was met with a sign that stated “This production contains haze, strobe effects, gunshots, and e-cigarette and e-cigar smoking” – indicating the wild ride ahead.

Sweeney Todd is a musical that takes itself and its grimdark subject matter seriously while also being absolutely charming and whimsical at times. After Todd declares that he hates not only Judge Turpin, but also every other human on the face of the earth, his friend and landlord Mrs. Lovett suggests (spoiler ahead!) that he start offering shaves to beggars and homeless people and killing them  so that they have a fresh supply of meat for her pie shop. This is immediately followed by a musical number about how what Mrs. Lovett herself has confirmed are the “worst pies in London” have become the best. In act 2, as things begin to come to a climax, we’re treated to a brief reprise from the drama when Mrs. Lovett sings to a brooding and murderous Sweeney about how great it would be if they just took up and ran away to live by the seaside together. There is even a song about hair growth gel! And yet, even the very first lines of the opening song hint at some of the darker material to be found within the play: “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd! His face was pale and his eye was odd! He shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again.”

Overall, I would have to say that my Sweeney Todd experience was worth every penny I spent on it. The songs were great, the performance and choreography were amazing, and the acting was superb. Enrique Bravo, the star of the show, was both good-looking and good at his job (at one point he made eye contact with me and I actually flinched); his supporting actors were also superb (the actress who played Johanna, especially, had an absolutely stunning voice); and when the play was over, it received an immediate standing ovation, which it well deserved. I was even willing to forgive its myriad of unapologetic puns – at one point, Sweeney tells an unsuspecting victim “I am at your disposal” and I had to stifle a groan. But they even managed to incorporate those flawlessly, so it can be forgiven.

Sweeney Todd was truly an Experience, and I only wish I’d had a chance to see it sooner. I’ve said a lot about it here, but if I could have said only one thing, it would probably be the same as what everyone had to say about Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies:
God, that’s good!

Leave a Reply