Attend the tale of ‘Sweeney Todd’ by Ray of Light Theatre and you won’t be disappointed

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 4/5 Stars » Highly Recommended)

After spending fifteen years in an Australian penal colony on a trumped up charge, barber Sweeney Todd returns to London hoping to be reunited with his wife and daughter. Alas, he discovers that his wife poisoned herself in his absence and his daughter has been adopted by the Judge responsible for all of his family tragedy. He sets out to take revenge, but when his plans go awry, the unhinged barber goes on a killing rampage, indiscriminately slicing the throats of his customers.  He gets rid of any damning evidence with the aid of his landlady, Mrs. Lovett, who bakes the dead bodies into meat pies. Combining their talents, they are able to run a highly profitable business.

This grisly melodrama hardly seems to be the stuff of musical comedy, especially  the “comedy” part. Yet, as we know, Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece was a Broadway success and continues to be often revived. In the present instance, we can be grateful this is so, as Ray of Light’s production is full of delights.

First among them is Adam Scott Campbell’s Sweeney Todd. A huge barrel-chested bear of a man with matinee-idol good looks, he sings the Sondheim score beautifully and brings to Sweeney a touching authenticity of feeling so that we have real sympathy for the monster. His haunted eyes will haunt you. A program note informs that this production marks his return to the stage after a two year hiatus. Let us hope he is back to stay.

Adam Scott Campbell as Sweeney Todd and Miss Sheldra as Mrs. Lovett in Ray of Light Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Photo credit: Ray of LIght Theatre.

Campbell is well-matched by Miss Sheldra‘s nuanced performance as the coldly calculating Mrs. Lovett. Sheldra has made the part her own, favoring cruelty over sentimentality in her original interpretation.

The musical direction and adapted orchestration by Robbie Cowan is excellent and superbly executed by conductor Sean Forte, whose driving pianistic accompaniment keeps things exciting. He is supported by Robert Moreno on percussion, Lucas Gayda on violin, and Zach Taylor on bass. The small ensemble works beautifully.

This is an accomplished Sweeney Todd that proves once again that the Ray of Light Theatre, a community-based troupe that combines the work of amateurs and professionals, is capable of delivering quality productions of the most challenging material.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street continues through August 11th. For further information, click here.

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“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, music and lyrics by  Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler, produced by Ray of LIght Theatre. Director: Ben Randle. Musical director: Robbie Cowan. Scenic Design: Maya Linke. Costume Design: Miriam Lewis. Lighting Design: Cathie Anderson.

Sweeney Todd: Adam Scott Campbell. Nellie Lovett: Miss Sheldra. Johanna: Jessica Smith. Anthony Hope: Matthew Provencal. Judge Turpin: Ken Brill. Tobias: Kevin Singer. The Beggar Woman: Michelle Jasso. The Beadle: J. Conrad Frank. Pirelli: Terrence Mclaughlin. Jonas Fogg: Ron Dritz. Ensemble: Gina di Rado, Mia F. Gimenez, Charles Woodson Parker, Velvet Piini.

Musicians:

Conductor/Piano: Sean Forte. Keys 2/Percussion: Robert Moreno. Violin: Lucas Gayda. Reeds: Bill Aron. Bass: Zach Taylor. Additional Orchestrations: Robbie Cowan.

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