Theater Review: Dark humor surrounds ‘Sweeney’

The demon barber of Fleet Street shook the Fullerton College stage as the school’s production of “Sweeney Todd” performed its opening weekend on March 9 through 12.

Despite a slow and relatively sagging first 15 minutes, the main characters gradually came to life as the tale unfolded.

Amid London’s luminous fog a boat appeared through hues of dark blue and orange. It carried passengers with contrasting ambitions. For Sweeney Todd, London was a city of painful memories, while his friend, Anthony Hope, saw it as an opportunity for a joyful new beginning.

The eight-time Tony Award-winning musical takes place in Victorian England and focuses on Todd’s return to his hometown. Todd, played by Nathan Hleger, encounters Mrs. Lovett, a strikingly odd and comical character played by Nicole Wessel. Mrs. Lovett assists Todd, who hopes to eventually retrieve his daughter, Johanna, from his mortal enemy: Judge Turpin.

After reuniting with Todd’s beloved shaving kit, he and Mrs. Lovett practically decide to form a business relationship. Todd begins killing selected customers with the closest shave of their lives and Mrs. Lovett subsequently bakes them into scrumptious meat pies. Although the business is a huge success, his ultimate goal remains the same: Todd wants revenge on Judge Turpin, played by Fernando Acevedo.

The set was clever and used one major piece that rotated to become four different settings. The barber’s chair cleverly linked to a contraption that acted like a laundry chute that led the dead customers to the kitchen for grinding and cooking.

Wessel gave an outstanding performance, lighting up the stage with her eccentric body language and magnetic personality. Her dynamic stage presence knocked the play into high gear, allowing the rest of the characters, including Todd, who gave a somewhat weak opening number, to jump into their characters.

Contributing to the flimsy beginning were some minor sound problems, which are inevitable when using a pre-recorded soundtrack and amplified character voices. There were times when the characters struggled to sing over the blaring music.

Nevertheless, the main actors all had their shining moments.

Hleger captured the essence of Sweeney Todd’s character with his stark presence and menacing baritone voice.

Resembling the ideal lover, Anthony, played by high tenor Shaun Leslie Thomas, not only captured Johanna’s charming gaze but also captivated the audience with his charm, sincerity and wit.

The musical featured many guaranteed show-stoppers such as “A Little Priest,” where Mrs. Lovett offers Todd her wide variety of meat pies, but explains the downfalls to each flavor. For example, the priest only comes on Sundays and the politician is always on the greasy side.

Other catchy tunes included “Kiss Me,” a hopelessly romantic and hilarious portrayal of young love. True to Stephen Sondheim’s writing style, the lyrics raced as the two blabbered away about their love for each other until they united on the words ‘kiss me.’ The melody reoccurs throughout the musical as the lovers’ theme. Sondheim revealed his mastery of music by indicating designated emotions for each character through major and minor key changes in songs.

Despite the enhanced creativity and dramatic portrayals, traces of the factual story still can be found in the play. In the 19th century London harbored a barber who murdered countless victims by his razor. This storyline has been regenerated many times, but Sondheim alone was able to successfully incorporate humor into its horror.

Every person has a desire for vengeance but few surpass Todd’s slick and subtle murders, according to the company’s ballad.

“To seek revenge may lead to Hell, but ev’ryone does it, and seldom as well as Sweeney, as Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

“Sweeney Todd” will end its run on Saturday at Fullerton College.

Yelena Ovcharenko can be reached at

Stephanie Duarte can be reached at

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Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.

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