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MTG tries Sondheim's dark Sweeny Todd

Sweeney Todd

MIT Musical Theater Guild.

La Sala de Puerto Rico.

Directed by Spencer Klein.

Music directed by Bryn Oh '95.

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Book by Hugh Wheeler.

Starring Ryan B. Caveney '96, Mary A. Finn '81, Alex Chisholm, and Irene M. Wilson '98.

By Teresa Huang
Staff Reporter

I wonder if Sondheim was drunk when he wrote this musical. He must have been - Sweeney Todd is easily the most dismal story ever set to music. The Musical Theater Guild's production of this dark musical succeeded in shocking the audience with its severity, but wasn't consistent in its graveness and seemed to lack vision.

When the musical opens, Sweeney Todd (Ryan B. Caveney G) returns to his town a bitter man with a new identity, having spent years in prison before escaping. Through a conversation with Mrs. Nellie Lovett (Mary A. Finn '81), the local meat pie shopkeeper, Sweeney Todd learns that his wife is dead and his daughter Johanna (Allison Werner W '98) is a prisoner of the deceiving Judge Turpin (Jake Yara '93). With the help of Mrs. Lovett, he concocts a plan to gain revenge against the judge - open a barber shop above her meat pie shop, invite the judge over for a close shave, and the rest you can figure out. The plot thickens when Anthony Hope (Carson T. R. Schutze G), a young sailor, discovers and falls for Johanna, vowing to take her away from the judge. The plot thickens even more when an arrogant competitor, Pirelli (Daniel P. Kamalic '99), recognizes Sweeney's true identity and consequently is slain by the barber. What to do with the body? Simple: Chop it up and bake it into one of Mrs. Lovett's meat pies. The story continues on its twisted path, getting bloodier with every song.

The characters in Sweeney Todd are almost all dark and complicated, and the cast was almost up to the task. Caveney's performance as Sweeney Todd himself was most curious, decidedly evil looking and sounding, yet seemingly in a trance most of the time. Finn was obviously comfortable with her role as Mrs. Lovett, though she and Caveney never seemed comfortable with each other. Maybe it's because he kept staring at the audience and never at her.

Alex Chisholm was terrific as Tobias Ragg, the nervous and naive boy who works for Mrs. Lovett. Also good was Irene M. Wilson '98 as the mysterious beggar woman, probably the best portrayal of emotion and meaning in the entire production. Schutze as the sailor Anthony was a less consistent portrayal. His voice was beautifully rich and moving, but his expressions and movements remained too vacant and stiff to be convincing, reminding me too much of Keanu Reeves. Werner was excellent as Johanna, though at times she sang so fast that the audience missed many of her words. Schutze and Werner didn't seem particularly comfortable with each other either. Overall, the characters in Sweeney Todd didn't seem to gel as an ensemble.

Sweeney Todd was quite obviously a good effort, but wasn't cohesive enough. The general effect worked - the atmosphere was sufficiently somber and the characters all looked like zombies in their makeup and costume. But there wasn't enough vision. Sweeney Todd is the kind of musical that needs a clear direction in terms of how it will look and feel. Though the mood was macabre from the start, there were too many distractions to create a true unifying effect. Some of the characters were inconsistent in their expressions and motions - most were grave and serious while others just looked tired.

Sweeney Todd also never effectively conveyed what compelled the characters to act as they do. The audience understood Sweeney Todd's emotions, but not his motivations. Why were Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett so content in their crime? The progression of the title character from bitter to insane was weak as well - a distinct contrast was certainly lacking.

Just as Sweeney Todd himself had tragic flaws, this musical itself has its flaws, mainly in its inconsistency and poor vision. Though the general effect of Sondheim's vision was conveyed, some of the intricacies of his darkest musical were lost in the translation.