Monday, December 11, 2017
Features and More

Stage West crew mostly shines in dark 'Sweeney Todd'

The musical Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is one of the most difficult — if not the most difficult — shows to ever grace a Broadway stage.

Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics are dense and complex, with some as rapid as machine-gun fire, others sung contrapuntally, still others jarringly dissonant. Since the story is mostly sung-through, it's imperative that the players not only sing those difficult melodies, but also clearly articulate each word so that the audience can follow the story.

The production playing weekends through Oct. 21 at Stage West Community Playhouse is successful on this crucial point about 80 percent of the time, with a couple of glaring exceptions that leave the audience members puzzled as to what is going on, especially those new to the show.

Set in a gritty, mid-19th century London slum, Sweeney Todd is the story of Benjamin Barker, a barber who was sent to an Australian prison by a judge lusting for Barker's beautiful young wife. Stage West pulls no punches showing the judge raping the fragile woman as a dancing mob laughs and giggles in cruel delight (this show isn't for the kiddies, by the way).

Barker returns to London after 15 years in exile, calls himself Sweeney Todd, and swears vengeance. With the help of the widow Nellie Lovett, a pie shop owner and his landlady before he was sent away, Todd goes at it with his bloody razor flying. The gruesome twosome turn Todd's victims into tasty meat pies, making the shop a big success, as a pitiful Beggar Woman warns one and all of the dreadful deeds going on right under their olfactory-offended noses.

Meanwhile, the young sailor who saved Todd's life after a shipwreck finds and falls in love with Todd's flaxen-haired daughter, who is kept prisoner by the lecherous judge — the very judge Todd has vowed to kill.

The theme is a commentary on the cutthroat nature of all mankind — "everyone does it, but none so well, as Sweeney Todd," the chorus cries as throats are slit all over the stage.

George Dwyer is magnificent as Todd, with makeup artist Libby Campo giving his face the pale, craggy look that tells Todd's personal tragedies at a glance. Dwyer's deep, powerful voice and rugged physicality are movingly right for this role, and his well-defined words eloquent.

Music director Wayne Raymond's 14-piece orchestra provides jaw-dropping beauty to accompany the many fine voices in this production, with special notice for Laura Rieker on flute, Michele Rose's clarinet, David Helfrich's French horn, Julianne Brown and Mariah Dixon's violins and Steven Schildbach's gorgeous piano. Joel Brown and Daniel's Maher's mournful cellos add just the right touch.

Young Jamie Smeriglio is a joy as Tobias Ragg, the innocent child drawn into Todd and Mrs. Lovett's craven world. His yearning Not While I'm Around, where he vows to protect the undeserving Mrs. Lovett, is poignantly prescient and showcases his bell-like tones.

Stan Kane does a fine job as the vile Judge Turpin, humming happily along as he plots the dirtiest of deeds. Dalton Benson's Beadle Bamford is appropriately fawning to the judge and nasty to others, misusing his power like an old pol. Patrick Moran does a smarmy Pirelli, Todd's rival "Italian" barber, to a turn, with spot-on accents that fit his changing personae.

Victoria Primosch's Johanna is lovely, and though it's near impossible to understand her words, sung soprano, her few lines of dialogue and her actions when with her would-be lover Anthony Hope (a charming Jeff Schoonmaker) make clear what the audience needs to know, and Anthony Cromartie's Jonas Fogg, the asylum warden, tells the rest.

Especially touching is Patricia Villegas as the Beggar Woman, who foreshadows disaster at every turn and delivers it in spades. Costume designer Myndee Fleury Washington captured her character, as well as every other in this production, to tell the tales of those who live in the despair of hard work, hard drinking and poverty.

The problems come with Julie Fickley's Mrs. Lovett, who is responsible for almost one-third of the story, and the ensemble, which moves the story along. Perhaps it is her effort to affect a Cockney accent, but, whatever it is, Ms. Fickley's Mrs. Lovett sounds as though her mouth is full of cotton, making her spoken and sung words essentially unintelligible. This is also a problem with the ensemble, which needs to take a collective deep breath and really sing out those crucial bridges between the scenes and the maniacal City on Fire.

That said, greatest kudos to set designer Lynda Dilts-Benson and the sizable construction crew led by John Napolitano, who put together a set worthy of a Equity-level theater. Kudos also to the stage crew, who wheeled the set pieces around and about unobtrusively and to stage manager Linda Clapsis, who made sure it all worked.

And highest praise goes to director Barbara Everest, who tackled this dark, formidable and challenging show to bring area audiences something completely out of the ordinary. Flaws and all, it's a shining achievement for Everest and her cast and crew.

Comments
Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

TAMPA Just a block away from CW’s Gin Joint, the folks at Urban Juice Co. have retooled, taking the historic Franklin building, one of the city’s oldest, erected in 1895, and re-envisioning it in September as 1895 Kitchen-Bar-Market, a "...
Published: 12/11/17
Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

A new documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried reveals someone more mild-mannered than his stage persona, married with children, verging on dull.His voice doesn’t grate, dropping half its nasal quality and all of its foul-mouthed bluster. Shy win...
Published: 12/11/17
Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

ST. PETERSBURG — In some ways, the Florida Orchestra’s gala with Sting looked like other concerts of a mega-star. Most of the fans who packed the Mahaffey Theater bought their tickets the day they went on sale. They cheered and sang along at the open...
Published: 12/10/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Dec. 11-17

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Dec. 11-17

Katy Perry: The Teenage Dream songstress roars into Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Friday ($45.75-$195.75). amaliearena.com. Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights begins Tuesday, bringing fun celebrations including Hanukkah in the City at the Sundial St. Petersb...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/10/17
Top holiday events, parades, parties this weekend

Top holiday events, parades, parties this weekend

ParadesApollo Beach Lighted Boat ParadeThe Tampa Sailing Squadron hosts this event and the party afterward with a chili cook off. Good viewing available from the clubhouse and docks. Free. Tampa Sailing Squadron, 1250 Apollo Beach Blvd., Ruskin. (813...
Published: 12/08/17
Fun and profound Hanukkah celebrations around the Tampa Bay area

Fun and profound Hanukkah celebrations around the Tampa Bay area

It’s time to observe the Festival of Lights, starting at sunset Tuesday and ending Dec. 20. Many congregations seem to be having a great time, because Hanukkah celebrations this year are hilarious. There’s a menorah made of fidget spinne...
Published: 12/08/17
From Hogwarts Castle to your home, digital projectors give a real light show

From Hogwarts Castle to your home, digital projectors give a real light show

At night, Hogwarts Castle is suddenly dusted with snow in steamy Florida. It’s not really snow, but light causing this trick of the eye. Projectors and sophisticated software then send ghosts across the castle towers. A turret spins and turns i...
Published: 12/08/17
Time to shine: Embrace this holiday season’s beauty trends

Time to shine: Embrace this holiday season’s beauty trends

The holiday season has officially arrived, bringing all the glitz and shine of twinkling lights and tinsel. It’s also bringing festive get-togethers, and whether they’re office parties or fancy soirees, the instinct is to look as shiny and bright as ...
Published: 12/08/17
Starbucks’ Christmas Tree Frappuccino tastes like broken promises and Thin Mints

Starbucks’ Christmas Tree Frappuccino tastes like broken promises and Thin Mints

You thought Starbucks was waging a war on Christmas when, in 2011, the company’s holiday cups featured nutcrackers that bore a coincidental resemblance to the Guy Fawkes mask, at the time a symbol of Occupy Wall Street. You thought Starbucks was taki...
Published: 12/08/17
Lightened Shepherd’s Pie comforting, quick

Lightened Shepherd’s Pie comforting, quick

When the weather gets cooler, we want to tuck into comfort food in our home. Doing a recipe makeover on a tasty-but-less-than-healthy dish is one of my favorite challenges. Today, I’m taking on a wintertime classic with my Lightened Shepherd’s Pie. T...
Published: 12/08/17