The University of Central Oklahoma's "Broadway Tonight" series specializes in bringing national touring musicals to the Oklahoma City area. Due to renovations at UCO, Rose State College played host to the series' most recent production: the current national Broadway tour of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
The dark musical tells the story of London barber Benjamin Barker, whose wife and child are stolen from him by a covetous judge while he is sent to prison. After 15 years, Barker returns under the name Sweeney Todd and, with the help of Mrs. Lovett, the proprietor of the local meat pie shop, he plans to take bloody revenge on the judge and reclaim his daughter.
Based on a 19th-century legend, "Sweeney" has had many incarnations over the last 150 years, but is best known now for the 1979 Tony-winning Stephen Sondheim musical and the 2007 film adaptation starring Johnny Depp. This current version was first produced in 2005, winning several awards, including the Drama Desk Award for Best Revival, and is notable for its pared-down production that includes a single set: a bleak, rundown psychiatric ward. In this production, the story of "Sweeney" is being told by Tobias, an inhabitant of that asylum and the one-time ward of Mrs. Lovett now driven mad by what he has witnessed.
Another stark difference in this revival of "Todd" is the lack of an orchestra. The music is instead played by the actors onstage, which makes for an incredible performance. They played their instruments in character, making them extensions of their dramatic performance. Not enough can be said about the sheer talent on display, as many of the actors switch between two "? and for some, even three "? different instruments during the course of the show.
There are a few cast members who seem better suited to music than acting, but for the most part, the performances were of the high caliber one would expect from a national touring show "? the best of them being, without a doubt, Carrie Cimma as Mrs. Lovett. She nailed the comedy, strutted with a bit of impoverished sex appeal, and delivered the most raw and emotionally honest performance in the show.
Merritt David Janes as Sweeney Todd gave what seemed like a slightly too subdued performance up front that gave way to a quiet seething that built to a satisfying emotional crescendo for the character. The scene stealer for the production is Chris Marchant, who delivered a delightfully nuanced performance as the lovable, but now mad Tobias.
Other performances of note included OCU junior Duke Anderson, perfectly capturing the youthful idealism of Anthony; Ruthie Ann Miles, giving an all-too-brief, but highly entertaining turn as Pirelli; and Patty Lohr and her haunting vocals as The Beggar Woman.
The great dramatic performances and bold musical presentation make for a show that is nothing short of astounding, capturing perfectly all the black comedy, menace, and ultimate tragedy of "Sweeney Todd."
UCO's Broadway Tonight series continues with "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on March 26.