The 1979 Tony Award-winning musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” now playing at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, is Stephen Sondheim's most perfectly constructed musical. And Its plot is both outrageously gory and unbelievably funny.
Broadway actor and DeSales University grad Dee Roscioli is delicious and delectable as the villainess Mrs. Lovett. She steals the show, playing her role to the hilt and creating one of the most entertaining villains to be seen in recent years on an area stage.
Roscioli has a lovely voice, a charismatic personality, an animated face and the right amount of physical energy to make Mrs. Lovett a whirlwind of energy and a blood-thirsty delight. She is also the reason that laughs rang through DeSales' Labuda Center Theater, particularly in songs like “The Worst Pies in London” and “By the Sea.”
But Roscioli wasn't the only actor singing this magnificent score. William Michals, who plays serial killer Sweeney Todd, has a powerhouse of a voice that echoes and resonates and captures the majesty of Sondheim's music. His inspired vocal delivery brings out Sweeney's madness and relentless need for vengeance.
The plot is full of melodrama. Sweeney Todd is a barber who comes back from 15 years as a prisoner in a penal colony determined to wreak vengeance on those who falsely imprisoned him, raped his wife and kidnapped his daughter, Johanna. Mrs. Lovett, his murderous accomplice and landlady, conspires with him to seek revenge in a macabre scheme. It's detailed in the hilarious triumph, “A Little Priest,” in which she hatches the plot to turn Sweeney's victims into meat pies.
Director Dennis Razze has an excellent and talented ensemble. Charlie Mann is touching and vulnerable as Tobias, the young orphan. His pitch for Pirelli's Miracle Elixir energizes the show. A later duet with Roscioli, “Not While I am Around,” is a heart-wringer and full of poignant emotions.
Michele Sexton is comical and touching as the beggar woman. Sexton has a magnificent voice, and her portrayal of the mad woman is a reminder of the injustice that exists in the world. Katie Wexler, a vision in virginal white, and James StabpÖ are lovely lovers. Wexler is a joy to watch, and Stabp is touching as her sincere and idealistic lover Anthony. His solos of “Johanna” are among the highlights of the show.
Christopher Coucill plays the lusting Judge Turpin with an amoral recklessness abetted by his self-serving Beadle, played coyly by Evan Harrington. Coucill's voice soars in his duets with Michals, “Pretty Women,” and Harrington is great fun to listen to as he sits down and sings his beloved parlor songs. Harrington has an impressive voice and is a nice foil for Roscioli.
Dave Schoonover is over the top and great fun as the pretentious Italian, Pirelli, who later morphs into the conniving Irishman, Danny O'Higgins.
This is Shakespeare Festival Director Razze's second attempt at mounting this complicated and satisfying masterpiece. This time he has created a production that both musically and physically emphasizes all of this murderous mayhem.
Eric T. Haugen's blood-red lighting drenches the stage with murderous symbolism, and his heavy use of black and white shadowing hint at the approaching tragic doom. Designer Steve TenEyck'sÖ cold, impersonal industrial set design adds to the sense of dehumanization of these inhabitants of London's lower classes by the upper classes. Lisa Zinni uses a mostly black and brown palette, noticeable for the absence of the color red, to create her wonderfully detailed period costume designs. The rags and layering add to a sense of the misery and deprivation of the downtrodden in the underworld of 19th-century London. Mrs. Lovett's costumes are a wonderful example of nouveau riche excess.
Vincent Trovato's musical direction is superb, and his accomplished 15-piece orchestra accompanies the singers rather than competing with them. They left audience members with glorious melodies dancing in their heads.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, the Labuda Center for the Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley, through July 1. Tickets: $25-$55, 610-282.9455, www.Pashakespeare.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun