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Theater review: 'Sweeney Todd' at Chandler Studio Theatre

October 1, 2009 |  3:00 pm

SWEENEY and MRS LOVETT PLOT The enduring genius of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler carries "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Their macabre Tony-winning masterwork revisits its penny-dreadful roots in this compact Production Company revival.

Many approaches have attended this musical thriller since its 1979 premiere, most recently John Doyle's cast-accompanied deconstruction and Tim Burton's gory Hammer Studios-flavored film. Here, director Derek Charles Livingston and musical director Richard Berent re-parse the fiendishly intricate property around a fervent ensemble, seeking a stylized immediacy that often evokes "The Threepenny Opera." Given its computerized accompaniment and un-amplified voices, the musical accuracy and intelligibility of lyrics is gratifying.

Kurt Andrew Hansen's resonant title barber never quite reaches dementia, but his "Epiphany" is still so intense that we're afraid to applaud. If Donna Pieroni overplays the infatuation as Mrs. Lovett, his raucous partner-in-meat-pies, her Kathy Najimy-meets-Faith Prince attack is entertainingly apt. When they devour the Act 1 finale, "A Little Priest," we're goners. 

Harmony Goodman, reliable as always, makes us overlook her Beggar Woman's lack of disarray, while Brian Maples' reedy tenor and Jenny Ashman's focused soprano adorn more interesting lovers than usual. Rob Herring gives urchin Tobias unforced clarity, R. Christofer Sands treats rival barber Pirelli to a droll ham's holiday and Nancy Dobbs Owen offers keen work en pointe as Sweeney's lost Lucy.

There are some unfinished lapses in Livingston's staging. Weston I. Nathanson's lecherous Judge Turpin isn't sufficiently repellent, ditto Rick Cox's clarion-voiced Beadle. Designer August Viverito's illumination could use footlights, his functional set reveals "dead" customers exiting, and some late-inning tactics may confuse non-devotees. Still, overall "Sweeney's" yeasty essence lands with a vengeance.

-- David C. Nichols

"Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 22. $34. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Photo: Kurt Andrew Hanson and Donna Pieroni. 

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