october 2018 | Volume 172
Colleen Winton as Mrs. Lovett and Warren Kimmel as Sweeney Todd in The Snapshots Collective’s production of Sweeney Todd. Photo credit: Nicol Spinola.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
The Snapshots Collective
Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop, 348 Water St.
When I heard that Sweeney Todd was playing in Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop in Gastown, I thought, “How clever those Snapshots Collective folks are for staging the play in a shop actually named for the play’s location.” Then I wondered why I had never heard of said pie shop. Then I went to see the show and discovered that, of course, the Collective had created Victorian London’s Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop in an empty Gastown storefront.
And that is only the first of many clever—nay, extraordinary, brilliant—details that comprise this most excellent production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s wonderful musical.
While there are rows of raked seats in the back half of the shop and bench seating along one side, I got to sit at the large wooden table that occupies the centre of the floor, just in front of a small stage space and the area that serves as the counter of Mrs. L’s shop.
That large wooden table also turns out to be a stage where much of the action—and I mean action—takes place. No drinks on the table, watch your fingers and be prepared to be splashed with the blood of Sweeney’s victims … I mean, customers. This is immersive theatre. The entire show takes place amid the audience.
And oh what glorious theatre it is, with a dream cast, the cleverest direction by Chris Adams and marvelously detailed period costumes from Emily Fraser. Nicol Spinola choreographs amazing sequences from the large cast in the cramped space, and Wendy Bross Stuart provides tight musical direction along with versatile keyboards. (A violinist and woodwind player round out the musicians.) Kudos to Andie Lloyd for the fascinating lighting and to fight directors Mike Kovac and Ryan Bolton for the scarily realistic, dangerous-feeling fights.
Big-voiced baritone Warren Kimmel is Sweeney, the bitter barber out for revenge against the perverted judge (Stephen Aberle) and violent beadle (Damon Calderwood)—both excellent singers and actors—who ruined his family and sent him off to prison in Australia. As Sweeney gets progressively crazier, cutting throats willy-nilly and feeding the corpses to Mrs. Lovett to be ground up and sold for meat pies in her shop, the formidable Kimmel gets bigger and badder and better. It’s a fantastic, overwhelming performance.
Colleen Winton matches him, not in vocal power but in character-driven vocal wit in Mrs. Lovett’s anything-for-me self-absorption. She’s a fine singer, very very funny and a pleasure to watch. And speaking of funny, Jonathan Winsby is hilarious as the faux-Italian barber Pirelli, and shows his own magnificent voice to great effect.
Rachel Park and Alex Nicoll are sweet as the young lovers, and Oliver Castillo has energy to spare as first Castillo’s then Mrs. Lovett’s ragamuffin assistant, Tobias. Another nine actor-singers play the rest of the characters and the chorus with great verve.
Sondheim’s music, uncharacteristically, is deliciously hummable, and his lyrics and rhymes are as wonderfully witty as always. I especially enjoyed “A Little Priest,” the act one-ending duet where Sweeney and Mrs. L joyfully imagine the various professions he’ll kill and she’ll grind up for pies: “The trouble with poet/Is how do you know it’s/Deceased—try the priest.” The opening number of act two, “God, That’s Good,” where the entire chorus revels in Mrs. L’s delicious pies, is another gem. The show is full of them, along with the glorious Grand Guignol revelry in horror, guilt and bloody violence.
I loved and admired this show, despite being extraordinarily uncomfortable on my hard bench, getting a sore neck from having twist around to follow the action. Oooh poor me. Bring a cushion for your bottom and prepare to be immersed in musical theatrical genius.
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