On Stage

Sweeney Todd

A close shave at the Bellingham Theatre Guild

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In retrospect, scarfing down a piece of pie shortly before seeing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street probably wasn’t the best idea ever—but at least I hadn’t scheduled a haircut for that afternoon.

If you get the aforementioned references, you’re already well aware the murderous musical currently showing at the Bellingham Theatre Guild tells the story of a man named Sweeney Todd who, after getting out of jail after 15 years—where he was falsely imprisoned thanks to a jerk of a judge who coveted his lovely wife—returns to his hometown and sets up shop as a barber with vengeance and homicide on his mind.

When I gathered together with a few friends for dinner before the show, those of us who already knew the plot particulars were trying to explain to the uninitiated that the flesh of the bodies the “demon barber” gave his closest shaves to were then used by his wannabe girlfriend, Mrs. Lovett, as the main ingredient in her meat pies. We also pointed out that it was a musical, and was likely going to inspire them to want to sing—or shriek—along.

While those who hadn’t heard of Sweeney before were shaking their heads in disbelief and shunning the piece of pie that was currently making the rounds at the table, those of us who knew the story assured them there was no need for alarm.

Not long afterward, when we were part of the audience and the house manager made the announcement that there’d also be “smoke and gunfire” in the production, I wasn’t so sure they shouldn’t be scared—especially after the woman sitting next to me informed her friend she was a “screamer.”

But, while I was sufficiently creeped out by a number of things—most notably the love song Sweeney Todd (Joseph R. Sasnett) crooned to his straight-edge razors and the voraciousness with which the townspeople ate their altered meat pies—I spent more time during the production being entertained than I did wondering how I’d look with my throat slit and my innards used for an “eat local” campaign.

Sasnett was eerily convincing as a man who’d lost his way (and his mind), and leading lady Samantha Brochta tempered his lunacy in her role as Mrs. Lovett, a pie-maker on the lookout for the choicest cuts. Since a fair portion of the play is sung, the two had big shoes to fill—and they did.

While some of the other singers in the cast were noticeably stronger than their counterparts, the story was told with style, and left a favorable impression among those in my crowd who’d never met Sweeney before that night.

“I’ve always been scared of straight-edge razors,” one friend noted as we made our way to the car, humming along to “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” “Now I know why.”

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