Recently revived by a film starring Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd is a wondrous tale of grotesque, soul-sucking revenge. Company Carolina's production of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical, while admirably ambitious in scope, falls short of adding any unique prints to the musical and leaves the audience wishing (with the exception of a handful of highlights) that the company had traded ambition for merit.
The production suffers from fickle microphones and inadequate sound design; regrettably, the fine live orchestra often drowns out the actors. The staging is sometimes powerful, such as the surround-sound approach to the full company bookends "Ballad of Sweeney Todd." Other times, the cast crowds the cleverly, perhaps too-economically designed set.
Still, the ensemble must be given kudos for pulling the production together in three weeks. That in mind, the production's few gems shine even brighter. By far the most entertaining role is Todd's twisted, lovable co-conspirator, Mrs. Lovett (Haley Swindal), whose commanding presence unifies the show. Swindal also carries much of the humor—the only other source for it is Nick Culp, who portrays the conniving Beadle with lewd refinement. Clare Fitzgerald gives an accurately screeching reading as the deranged Beggar Woman and Michael Gagnon (an Indy employee), as the young boy Tobias Ragg, deserves credit for his unnervingly insane turn in the finale. As Sweeney, Andrew DiMartino has a few standout scenes—most noticeably his depressing "Epiphany" in Act I, in which he sings, "We all deserve to die," but his strength seems proportionate to his scene partner.
Despite some shortcomings, it's still Sweeney Todd, and you'll (probably) still be glad you saw it.
This is one of those shows that compels critics to dash madly through fields of wild adjectives in the attempt to describe it. Overtly, audaciously ambitious in its scope, oversized in its aesthetics and design, John Justice and Michael Smith's stage adaptation of William T. Vollman's novel manages to be critically incisive as it analyzes the relationships between art, artists, people of conscience and the totalitarian state without losing the poignancy of its subjects' lives.