Theater Review: A Star-Studded Sweeney Todd from PlayMakers Rep | Arts
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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Theater Review: A Star-Studded Sweeney Todd from PlayMakers Rep

Posted by on Tue, Apr 5, 2016 at 4:36 PM

click to enlarge Annie Golden as Mrs. Lovett and David St. Louis as Sweeney Todd in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. - PHOTO BY JON GARDINER FOR PLAYMAKERS REPERTORY COMPANY
  • photo by Jon Gardiner for PlayMakers Repertory Company
  • Annie Golden as Mrs. Lovett and David St. Louis as Sweeney Todd in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
★★★ ½
Paul Green Theatre, Chapel Hill
Through April 23


I was mildly aghast: noticeably tentative—and not always audible—voices, sometimes pitchy and off time? True, it was only a Facebook video preview for Sweeney Todd at PlayMakers Repertory Company, but as an online advertisement, it hardly instilled confidence in the show to come.

So despite the marquee leads of Broadway’s David St. Louis and TV’s Annie Golden (Orange Is the New Black), and the up-to-now unshakable music direction of Mark Hartman, there was a somewhat larger question mark than usual hanging over Paul Green Theatre on the opening night of this show’s second local production in as many months (after Raleigh Little Theatre’s held-over production closed March 6).

As anticipated, PlayMakers’ design team surpassed earlier local efforts in Raleigh. Jan Chambers’s atmospheric three-story set placed a dingy side street in London literally atop the gears of a merciless industrial revolution. Judy Adamson’s costume shop ably executed Bill Brewer’s dark, occasionally droll designs. Charlie Morrison’s lights and shadows conveyed the menace of the text, and sound designer Maria Württele deftly managed the audio mix’s many moving parts, with only passing EQ problems.

In addition to her solid character work, guest director Jen Wineman’s vivid stage pictures and compositions animated crucial ensemble pieces with choreographer Tito Hernandez during the opening "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and the second act opener, "God, That’s Good!"

But when the singing isn’t uniformly strong in a musical, there’s trouble. Hartman’s orchestra was rock-solid, and St. Louis’s baritone was mellifluous and menacing through the night, in songs including "No Place Like London" and "My Friends." But Golden’s problems keeping up in the fast parts of "The Worst Pies in London" grew conspicuously worse during "A Little Priest." Both were clearly second best compared to Rose Higgins’s takes last month. Some locals had their difficulties, too, including Julie Fishell’s nearly atonal "City on Fire" and Ray Dooley’s vocal strain in "Pretty Women."

Were these short-lived glitches—brief but manageable vocal maladies brought on by allergies, colds, or fatigue? Or was Pat McCorkle’s casting the problematic agent in this show? Reader, you’ll know the answer better than I once you’ve seen PlayMakers’s Sweeney Todd.

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