February 13, 2010
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'Sweeney Todd' focuses on tragedy
By COLIN MacLEAN - QMI Agency


EDMONTON - In the original New York production of Steven Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a tale used to scare kids for 150 years, Todd was an animated gargoyle with deep-set eyes and lit from below like a Universal Pictures monster.

Bob Baker, the director of the Citadel's luminous new production, has a different concept. Sweeney Todd is really a tragic love story and, if we are to have any feelings for him when madness turns his barber's razor into an implement of death, then we must see that he was profoundly wronged.

Once he was a loving husband and father turned to the dark side by a corrupt magistrate who coveted his beautiful wife and sent him off in chains to Australia on trumped up charges.

Consequently, Sweeney, as played by Rejean Cournoyer, is certainly intense and driven but accessible.

Despite all that, it doesn't take long for Hugh Wheeler's book, and Sondheim's razor sharp words and dissonant music, to send the chills creeping down your spine. This is the closest Sondheim ever came to writing an opera and songs such as Johanna and No One's Going to Hurt You are as lyrical as anything he's ever written.

Mary Kerr's set helps. Dark and forbidding, with twisted angles and expressionist lighting, it's as if she has sliced up the architecture of pre-Dickensian London and hung its essence in space.


Baker has cast the singing voices as skillfully as he has assembled just the right actors for the roles. Cournoyer is a commanding presence and goes spectacularly mad. He is matched in this gruesome twosome by Nicole Robert as his partner-in-crime, Mrs. Lovett. In his deranged mind, all of mankind is responsible for the destruction of his life and he is bent on revenge -- one throat at a time.

He slices up his customers and then his barber's chair dumps them into the basement where Mrs. Lovett bakes them into "the best pies in London."

Cournoyer also has some effective scenes as Doug MacLeod, who is properly evil as the plotting Judge Turpin. In a cast of equals, John Ullyatt brings some needed humour, slyly stealing every scene as Beadle Bamford.

Sweeney Todd is not for everyone as some will find the gruesome story off-putting, but for those who share a macabre sense of humour, the Citadel has come up with a bloody good show.


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