UNC Pauper Players “Sweeney Todd”
Production: Friday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.
????1/2 out of 5
The scene dimmed to a near blackness as a few London townspeople took the stage in the opening number “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” which foreshadows the grim tale of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.
“Behold the tale of Sweeney Todd,” the ensemble sings in a frantic harmony, “He never forgives and he never forgets.” The show, being performed by UNC’s Paupers Players this weekend, sold out both Friday and Saturday nights.
“Sweeney Todd” is the tale of Benjamin Barker, a barber falsely convicted of an unnamed crime and banished, while his beautiful wife Lucy and his daughter Johanna are left to the mercy of the cruel Judge Turpin. When Todd returns at the end of his 15-year sentence, he finds that the Londoners have had no sympathy for his family, and sets out to enact his revenge.
Lochlan Bedford is a freshman who plays Todd in his first ever student theater production. Lochlan proved he deserves the role by delivering the character exceedingly well, following the tumultuous emotions of a man desperately blinded by revenge through his raging emotional solos that cursed the Londoners and illustrated his spiraling descent into madness. While Lochlan’s solo moments were impressive, the duets, “Epiphany” and “A Little Priest,” between Todd and Mrs. Lovett, the meat pie shop owner and Todd’s partner in crime, revealed the power the couple wanted to hold over the town.
Lovett, played by Rachael Tuton, was a quick-witted, clever character, who frequently provided laughs to the audience after a dark monologue from Todd. Tuton’s portrayal of Lovett as the forlorn meat pie shopkeeper was sparked with energy that came from well-delivered lines. Tuton’s singing matched the power of Belford’s, especially in her solo “By the Sea,” where Lovett dreams of vacationing somewhere warmer with Todd. Tuton portrays Lovett’s determination to win over Todd’s affections with theatrical expressions and her sharp wit that complimented Todd’s similar disdain for the townspeople.
The musical’s main storyline is paired with the tale of young love between Anthony Hope and Johanna, played by George Barrett and Taylor Hamlet, respectively, the young lovers who try to escape the corrupted town. Hamlet does a splendid job of depicting Johanna’s character as the entrapped, possibly abused, young woman who is searching for real affection and a way out of London. Hamlet’s singing was beautifully sweet and sad, as the lovely Johanna is herself. Barrett’s portrayal of Hope’s loving and heroic values kept the audience anticipating his success throughout the show. Though the lighting during the show was effective at highlighting tension and emotionally sensitive moments throughout the show, there were several times the spot light had trouble following the actors on stage, such as when Johanna and Anthony were singing during part of “Kiss Me,” and the beginning of Lovett and Todd’s duet for “By the Sea.”
The set of “Sweeney Todd” featured a disc below a multi-scene cube that spun throughout the show. The challenge of working in Historic Playmakers Theatre is that no structural changes can be made to the building — the crew can’t drill or screw anything into the structure. However, the crew handled this challenge well, spinning the disc between scenes as furniture was added or taken away. The crew did a marvelous job of depicting the desolate, corrupt city through this complex stage design, despite a few fallen props throughout the show. During the set changes though, those who changed the props came out in normal clothes, which slightly detracted from the mood and scene set during the show.
Another challenge for the set and props in this production was the method of showing Todd’s live murders. Again, the crew handled this problem well in a delightful display of splattering blood and throat slicing action that felt a little too real.
This production of Sweeney Todd from the Pauper Players rose to the challenges of depicting murder and quick scene changes. This production is unique in the setting of Historic Playmakers, which allowed the actors to interact with audience members, such as the ensemble running through the aisles in a desperate warning to the audience. The singing from Hamlet, Lochlan and Tuton, and the character development throughout the show told the dramatic tale of a man perpetually blinded by vengeance in an inescapable, merciless town.
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