REVIEW: An Intimate and Satisfying Take on Fleet Street’s Barber Demon


Even if you’ve seen Sweeney Todd, don’t miss the chance to catch this satisfying little release – great entertainment and a tribute to the community that shows up to deliver it

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Edmonton has a well-deserved reputation as Canada’s theatrical hub, with a wide selection of options ranging from smashing new musicals that draw hundreds to the Shockor Theatre, to tiny picture-perfect dramas drawing 50 people to larger spaces. smaller ones such as Westbury’s Studio Theatre.

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While big shows have their appeal, there’s something magical about an intimate setting and watching local talent up close.

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Such was the case on Friday night when the Plain Jane Theater production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street kicked off their 10-day run at the CO*LAB. The room is small and uncluttered, with several rows of seats on three sides of the black box space. You can see the pores of the actors.

Director Kate Ryan and musical director Shannon Hiebert have assembled an inspiring ensemble for this version of Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed production, which debuted in New York in 1979.

Sweeney Todd is a legendary literary character who emerged in the 19th century horror series The String of Pearls. Told repeatedly for nearly 200 years, the story features Sweeney Todd, a vengeful barber who slits customers’ throats with a straight razor, and Mrs Lovett, a baker who makes meat pies from the corpses. .

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Sondheim’s story was based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond which gave its characters a delightful backstory; Todd escaped from a penal colony after being discharged on trumped up charges by Judge Turpin, who then raped Todd’s beloved wife, Lucy, and assumed guardianship of the couple’s daughter, Johanna. Sweeney Todd has won numerous Broadway and West End awards and has enjoyed multiple revivals and performances since.

With a book by Hugh Wheeler, the original musical is often billed as an American opera featuring a cast of around two dozen and an orchestra of the same size. Ryan’s production has eight performers, with a single pianist (Hiebert) to bring the score to life.

The Plain Jane Theater production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, runs at CO*LAB (9461 102A Ave.) until November 20.
The Plain Jane Theater production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, runs at CO*LAB (9461 102A Ave.) until November 20. Photo by Matt Simpson /Provided

But it works. Oh, how does it work. The cast and lone musician perform Sondheim’s lyrics and music on a small scale — there’s obviously no Greek choir to trumpet Sweeney Todd’s recurring ballad. But Hiebert and Ryan brought in opera soners to give the production a heart-pounding dramatic resonance. Jacqueline Hernandez, a Chilean soprano studying voice at the University of Alberta, is particularly captivating as the mysterious beggar and Aldolfo Pirelli.

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Vance Avery, long a major contributor to the musical theater scene in Edmonton (credits include recent Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with Plain Jane, Jesus Christ Superstar and Mamma Mia at Mayfield, and Hadestown at the Citadel) embodies the judge Turpin with a passionate obsession. I could barely take my eyes off his face as he struggled with the lustful pursuit of his ward in the song, Johanna, and again in Pretty Women. Josh Travnik as Turpin’s assistant, Beadle Bamford, is positively Dickensian in his obsequiousness.

Ryan (along with production designer Trent Crosbie) chose to begin the story in the dining room of a meatpacking plant, reflecting the industrial ethos of the original production. The opening moments of the musical, against the howling grind of meat-cutting equipment, seemed unnervingly real and a fitting prelude to the dehumanizing experience to come.

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While not the strongest singers in the cast, lead characters Mr. Todd (Sheldon Elter) and Mrs. Lovett (Kristi Hansen) steal the show. Hansen, in particular, seems made for the role. She’s edgy and witty, with a rubber face and terrific timing. As Elter’s obsession with revenge heightens the tension in each of his scenes, he comically keeps the vigorous Mrs. Lovett at bay. The two are delightful in A Little Priest as they discuss theories about which professionals make the best pie filling.

Even if you’ve seen Sweeney Todd – one of the most popular shows in the American musical theater canon – don’t miss the chance to catch this satisfying little release. The show is great entertainment and a tribute to the community that shows up to deliver it.

yegarts@postmedia.com

EXAM

The Plain Jane Theater production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler

Director Kate Ryan

Music Director Shannon Hiebert

Where CO*LAB 9641 102A Ave.

When Until November 20

Tickets From $25, available on plainjanetheatre.com

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