By Mark A. Leon
From the opening number to the last bloody scene, Woolfe Street Playhouse’s newest production, “Sweeney Todd” is a masterpiece. With exquisite set and costume design, a cast with tremendously penetrating musical range and just the right combination of humor and horror, this play will leave you wanting more.
If you have read the book, seen another live production or got swept into Tim Burton’s theatrical release, throw it all out the window. This cast has set the bar high. This play, set in London, 1840’s is an all-encompassing transport through time. As an audience member, you become part of the story, sitting at old wooden tables, wooed by street peddlers and offered the chance to get a shave with the infamous Sweeney Todd. Remember, don’t say yes.
Bradley Keith leads this wonderful ensemble cast as Sweeney. Speaking several weeks ago to Bradley, I learned that this has been a beloved story favorite of his for many years and outside of rehearsal, he ran lines with his young daughter. This passion and dedication helped transform Bradley into this complex character. With his subtle humor, pitted anger and emptiness in his soul, you witness the transformation and decline of a man who once was blessed with beauty, a family and a life of happiness and fulfillment.
Though his intentions are noble, his actions and uncontrollable obsession to the destroy those that took his family and life away become a dark path that one can never return. Bradley’s powerful presence on stage gives the audience a character that you fear and fell empathy for all at the same time.
A remarkable performance.
Katherine Kuckelman, a College of Charleston senior studying Voice Performance, has the voice of an angel as Johanna. If you close your eyes and listen to her voice, you are transported to a French opera house circa 1820. The sensuality and emotion she carries is a vocal celebration. Every chord makes you feel the thoughts, fears and love running through her mind. Katherine is a true talent that has a bright future in the arts.
It was a pleasure to see Nat Jones and Jimmy Flannery reunite as Judge Turpin and The Beadle. I had the pleasure of seeing both men perform in Threshold Repertory’s Production “Bent” and they both took a very deeply tragic story and let themselves become vulnerable and stricken. There is a comfort both men share in each other’s presence which makes for excellent casting as two sinister towns officials.
What can we say about Mrs. Lovett played with explosiveness by Kathy Summer. She is a carnival ride, stadium concert, fireworks show and a space launch all wrapped into one. With precision comedic timing, a controlled insanity fueled by dreams of love and a superb singing voice, Kathy Summer owned her role as Mrs. Lovett.
The character of Tobias Ragg is perhaps one of the most complex in the play. Often slow and lacking in intellect, loyal as a puppy, insightful and incredibly playful, Tobias becomes center stage in scenes where his isn’t even the prominent player. His jovial musical numbers, playful dancing and knack for physical comedy was a blessing. Played by Charleston Southern University senior theatre student Justin Borak, Tobias brings a natural balance to the insanity all around. Justin’s acting technique is nearly flawless. You are focused on his smile, laugh and unspoken banter with the audience during each of his scenes.
The remainder of the cast and ensemble all portrayed their characters pitted in the seedy underbelly of mid nineteenth century London with expert precision. The vocals complimented by a beautiful band comprised of Leah Megli on piano, Brandi Manis on clarinet and Vanessa Chamers on cello added to the intensity and flow of the play so well.
“Sweeney Todd” is a theatrical play that will amaze, shock and satisfy you this Halloween season. A must see.