Street | Theater

'Sweeney Todd' takes risks and delivers

The preview article on the Grind Arts Company’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” focused on the young group’s desire to push boundaries with its talented cast and its new vision for collegiate theater.

However, a commenter on the article doubted the production’s ability to really break the rules of theater — is having your production in a unique location enough to count as risky?

“It doesn’t seem to be really out there — it doesn’t break the rules of theater the way that some ateliers and theater department shows do or like some recent off- and off-off-Broadway plays (it gets done at high schools as the year’s big musical).”

Another commenter, on the other hand, supported the project right away: “Risk-taking is what the arts on this campus craves,” he said.

These two comments show the gamble of announcing the cutting-edge nature of “Sweeney Todd.” After marketing the production as one to “push boundaries” and create a “reimagined” “Sweeney Todd,” Grind Arts Company’s production had to embody the bold statements of its promotion and deliver on its promise of risk. “Sweeney Todd” does both.

The show’s main “risk” is still its unusual setting, and it does exactly what you would expect. Most obviously, an outdoor setting gives the cast more space, meaning when Anthony and Johanna run away, they really run away — not just behind a curtain where we all know they’re still there, but far enough for us to wonder. When Sweeney throws a chair, he throws it with all his power, not worried that it’ll crash into a wall because there are none.

On that note, the audience can’t tell if what it sees is actually part of the Jadwin Gymnasium loading dock— like the recycling dumpsters on the side where Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett hide or the balcony above, where Johanna sings to Anthony. Blurring the line between what is built and what is there draws the audience further into the play, as though we have just stumbled upon the action happening on the edge of campus.

In the outdoors, there is also little separation between the audience and the actors — they run through the crowd, sometimes threatening to take our hair or offering a shave — making “Sweeney Todd” not just a production, but an experience.

The acting is perfectly creepy. In particular, Ben Taub ’14, playing Sweeney Todd, brings a deliberate darkness to the role. Johanna is not her usual boring self, as Deirdre Ricaurte ’16 brings a sass that gives the character edge and departs from the typical portrayal of the character as a passive object of love. Mrs. Lovett (Olivia Nice ’14) could almost sell you one of her pies if you don’t think too hard about what’s in them.

As expected by such a star-studded cast, the singing is sublime. Standouts include impressive ballads by Graham Phillips ’16 (Anthony) and versatile vocals from Chris Prisco ’14 (Judge Turpin). However, there are occasionally distracting acoustic issues.

While the mixing improves as the show goes on, I found hearing the actors difficult at times, and the audio issues occasionally make the singing sound pitchy. Compounding this problem is a rather thin pit — only a single violin, cello, clarinet and keyboard — that covers music originally created for an orchestra six times that size. In spite of the difficulties, the cast and pit are generally in sync throughout the entire show.

In the show, Jonas Fogg (Allen Hernandez ’16) tells Anthony, “We are one happy family here, sir, and all my patients are my children, to be corrected when they’re naughty and rewarded with a sweetie when they’re good.” Grind Arts Company’s “Sweeney Todd” brings you into that family — whether you want to be a part of it or not.

4 out of 5 paws.

Pros: Creepy actors; use of the outdoors

Cons: Acoustic issues

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