Telecommuniculturey

High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Friday, March 05, 2004

I Don't Want To Be a Pie!

My lovely A asked a while back if we'd like to come down to see Sweeney Todd. The performance dates happily corresponded with her birthday, and it seemed like a grand plan, especially as, at the time, I had no clue that I'd have tickets for two other performances that week. We drove down early enough to spend some quality time bonding with her new cat, eating deliciously garlicky hummus and chatting about nothing in particular (well nothing more particular than me trying to convert her to O'Neill lust after she happened to mention that she was scoping out new shows). It was one of the most lovely, relaxing afternoons I've had in months and the only flaw was that we didn't get to spend time with her husband, who had to be out of town.

As dusk fell, we headed out to dinner and, for the first time in our long acquaintance, I got to drive (in an Escort with the license plate Gamgee 1, no less [yes, her husband is a medievalist, and a great.big.geek; we love him]) with A at the wheel! Having been raised in the UK, she had never gotten a US license until they moved to Champaign. So it's not quite the Warlock at the Wheel, but it was exciting for me nonetheless. We ate at the Bread Factory, which was every bit as illicit and delicious as it sounds. I had a fantastic prosciutto and sun-dried tomato pizza with yet more garlic and a tasty glass of wine.

Having assured my maximum personal stinkiness, we repaired to the Krannert Center for the show. I saw Sweeney Todd at Lyric last year with the exceedingly yummy Bryn Terfel (um . . . Bryn was on stage; the Whitest Man in the Universe was with me as usual), so I was nervous that this production wouldn't measure up. On several dimensions, it did. As all y'all know by now, I'm a total set!slut and this was another good 'un.

At downstage left and right, there were large packing crates, about 7 feet high and 4 feet deep. These acted as "balconies" and also had quite nifty pull-out minisets to accommodate Judge Turpin's parlor down right and his bar (um . . . the one with powdered wigs and robes [no, not a drag bar {well, I suppose it's judge drag}], not one with black dahlias) down left. The bulk of center stage was left clear to allow for the crowd scenes and those in which Anthony wanders about singing cheerily and Sweeney stalks about singing gloomily.

Later, large, mobile set pieces were wheeled out representing Mrs. Lovett's shop (with the Tonsorial Parlor accessible by a staircase that made my inner stage manager very nervous and my inner klutz go positively fetal with anxiety); the same piece flipped around to represent Mrs. Lovett's parlor, complete with harmonium. The bakehouse was also mobile and delightfully reminiscent of Mrs. Tweedy's pie-making machine. The grinder along the side had obviously been assembled with loving attention to detail and the visual gags with it certainly paid off.

Upstage was dominated by a trestle-like balcony. At up right and left, this ran flush with the back wall of the theatre, with a U-shaped jog jutting downstage at center. The supports for this formed three arches that gave the sense that the stage covered a vast expanse of winding city streets. The up-right portion was faced with stone that abruptly ended halfway through the up-center portion of the balcony, leaving the steel skeleton of the rest of it exposed. Mostly, this was used to represent the insane asylum and as things really ramp up toward the end, it was lit in such a way that the balcony seemed to end where the stone facing ended, giving the impression that our merry band of lunatics were suspended in mid-air. Pretty cool.

The cast was quite good overall, although there were some odd choices. Sweeney, I'm sure, had a fine voice, but he was no Bryn Terfel. 'Nuff said. Oh, apparently not quite enough said, because he and Mrs. Lovett had some nice, genuinely touching interaction with one another. The Beggar woman had a good voice in a role that can be positive murder on the ears, but she really needed someone to light a fire under her. She drraaaaaaggggeeed worse than Kim Crosby as Cinderella in Into the Woods. The Beadle was too smarmy and not clueless enough and his voice, although technically fine, had a tone that really raised my hackles.

My two major complaints were the Judge and Johanna. I realize that they are drawing from a University Community, but casting him as a man obviously much younger than Sweeney was very strange. He is written as a crumbling, decrepit lecher and his age is a large part of what makes his yen for Johanna creepy. The actor's voice was fine, but he also didn't bring a lot of depth to the role.

Johanna's voice was not great. The role clearly pushed the limits of her range and her tone was neither light nor sweet enough to pull off either "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," or "Ah, Miss!" It also didn't help that she looked a lot like the lobotomized chyck from Parts: The Clonus Horror, only more scary and skeletal.

Acting-wise, Mrs. Lovett was excellent and looked disconcertingly like an old, dumpy Jennifer Aniston. There were times, though, when I wished that I could erase her memory of the original cast recording, because there were times when she simply seemed to be imitating Angela Lansbury, when she clearly had a great voice in her own right.

Anthony's voice was extraordinary, and he was adorable---practically cherubic. Unfortunately, cherubic combined with a period navy uniform = Sta-Puff Marshmallow man. C will please inform F. that his time in the inadvertant-pop-culture-reference-in-an-artistic-endeavor penalty box has now ended.

Toby also had a wonderfully pure tenor and he and Mrs. Lovett were quite sweet with one another (relatively speaking, and allowing for blood bathy values of "sweet"). He also was a dead ringer for Hugh Laurie, which amused A and I to no end. This resemblance would prove to be nearly fatal at the end of the show. For reasons best known to the costume designer (they're. all. crazy.), when Tobias returns after having escaped the bakehouse, his hair has turned completely white, presumably from having had the Beadle and Judge dumped unceremoniously on him. Fine, whatever, a little melodramatic, but whatever. But could the designer stop there? Nossir. They put him in a big, Einstein fright wig, despite the fact that, moments earlier, his hair had been quite short. This had the side effect (fortunate or unfortunate depending on your perspective) of making him a dead ringer for Mr. Simnoc from the Berendt's Cocoa sketch (a reference that roughly 4.5 people will get), reducing A and I to puddles of gooey hilarity as we gasped out "You're a great, bog-breathed nancy and you pong!" to one another.

Made me want to urinate in an opera house, it did. But it'll have to wait. I have soup in my hair.

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