Monday, January 3, 2011

Fleet Street Comes to Normal Avenue in Epic Proportions

This past November, specifically the afternoon of November 20, 2010, a few of my friends and I saw the production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at our school, provided by the Department of Theater and Dance, meaning MSU students. This post is actually the uncut version of the review I wrote for it for The Montclarion, which you can find here.

I wasn't sure if the editors could use it because it was in the past and I had submitted this after Thanksgiving break, so I wasn't sure if it was too late to publish it as current news. I just had to write about the show. I couldn't not write about it. It was one of those performances you had to write about to get it all off your chest to express your full appreciation of it and have closure. My editor got back to me and said that they could use it and that they had wanted to cover it. I was beyond thrilled.

So as you will see, what I originally wrote was really long because I did not want to forget anything, so it's understandable that they had to edit a lot. However, I did want to post the original somewhere because towards the end of my Thanksgiving break is when I finally worked up the nerve to write it and send it to my editor, because like I said, I wasn't sure if he was going to use it anyway so I wasn't sure if I should write it. But because I couldn't not write it, I did and took the chance and asked if he could he could use it at all. I wrote everything on my mind and wanted my editor to use what he needed from it.

I worked day and night on it and am extremely proud of it, so I have been wanting to share this version as well. I had to publish it somewhere. I originally was going to post it under Facebook Notes, but considered this a better home for it. :) Enjoy!

Ok so I know that Thanksgiving break is passed us and that the Department of Theatre and Dance and John J. Cali School of Music’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street ended around two weeks ago, but I was given the muse to write this piece, regardless of this lengthy passage of time. The show quickly sold out all five days it was playing at Alexander Kasser Theater, including the matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday, possibly having to turn away plenty of enthusiastic theatergoers who wished to see it. Due to this high demand of tickets, I feel that the play is deserving of a review in order to paint a picture for those who were unable to attend and give it the recognition it deserves.

Before seeing this production, I was not a real big fan of Sweeney Todd, so thankfully I had my good friends Julia and Cherry, who have been big fans, there to make my experience that much more exciting. The performance clinched our fandom. When you sit in your seat, you are greeted by a set so magnificently portraying the dark streets of 19th Century London. Dangling from a rope is a dead body wrapped in cloth. One by one the ensemble, baring resemblances to the darkness of the scenery, walks onstage to the music of a creep-tastic organ, each inspecting the dead body. In song, they invite us to “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.” Sweeney Todd, played by senior Adam Bashian, then enters to help complete the song. Prior to the performance I had read the cast list on Facebook and remembered him from last fall’s Arcadia as Bernard Nightingale, so I was excited to see him in his element once again and immediately deemed him as perfect for the role of Sweeney Todd. As soon as he enters the stage in that first number, he has a presence that remains throughout the rest of the show, complete with amazing singing and acting skills, along with a deep, thrilling voice. A slightest snicker of his adds the extra flavor needed to complete a scene.

Bashian is not alone in this, however. Junior Jesse Ellyn Zeidman uses her talents of wit and accent emulation to portray Mrs. Lovett, Todd’s partner in crime in his murders, and freshman Kirk Geritano, as Judge Turpin, uses his maturity and impressive vocals to portray Todd’s main nemesis and target. Because there are plenty cast and crew members to mention, I unfortunately cannot commemorate each one, but I will say this: Even the minor characters, including those from the Company, blew me away and could have very well been considered leads due to their stamina. They are just as important and are needed by the audience to lead the plot. It was fascinating to recognize certain cast members that I have seen in past Peak Performances altogether performing in such a way. What made it even more fascinating was the fact that these were Montclair students but you would think it was a Broadway cast. Whether they are the townspeople or escaped lunatics, you could definitely see the passion that they had regardless of the size of their roles. What I liked also was how the orchestra joined this cast and crew onstage for curtain call, for I have never seen that done before.

Even though Sweeney Todd is considered a musical thriller, ironically it was also pretty funny. Humorous moments were scattered throughout, especially during “A Little Priest,” which proved to be a highlight number as Todd and Mrs. Lovett jokingly plotted the demise of their victims. Because “Epiphany” is my favorite song from Tim Burton’s version, I was looking forward to hearing it throughout the first act, so this finally being sung by Bashian was a highlight for me as well.

Sweeney Todd was directed by Jodi Capeless, and according to her biography, she has plenty of Broadway and Off-Broadway credits under her belt. This kind of quality showed in Sweeney Todd. This has got to be the best show I have seen at MSU so far, and I have seen some great ones, because of the professionalism behind it. Good examples of this are the change of scenes with the automatic set that moved on its own and the lighting to help accentuate the intensity and eeriness of these scenes. You could mentally feel the illusion of heat from Mrs. Lovett’s oven, even though it was just a set with great lighting and smoke.

Beings though Sweeney Todd uses his razor to slice the throats of unsuspecting men who enter his barbershop, it is expected to see some gore, though I was not sure in this case because this was a staged production and the only exposure I had of Sweeney Todd prior was Tim Burton’s film. Sure enough, right on Kasser’s stage theatrical cringe worthy blood squirted from Todd’s victims at the moment of impact. As a somewhat squeamish person, I found this a bit disturbing, but I survived. It did not happen too often and it was not as messy as one would think, so thankfully it was not that horrible for it to haunt me.

I left Kasser that night in what I like to call a “Sweeney Todd high” and have been in a “Sweeney Todd withdrawal” ever since the show ended. And this is after seeing the play only once. In the famous words of MC Hammer, Tim Burton “can’t touch this.” Nothing beats this play. It was THAT good.

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