Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street by Theater Latté Da, performing at the Ritz Theater

Mark Benninghofen and Sally Wingert in Sweeney Todd. Photo by George Bryan Griffiths.

Mark Benninghofen and Sally Wingert in Sweeney Todd. Photo by George Bryan Griffiths.

Mark Benninghfen, who plays the eponymous character in Stephen Sondheim‘s giddy and brilliantly tuneful revenge fantasia, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (Theater Latté Da, performing at the Ritz Theater, through Oct 25) is a revelation: board stiff with anger and bloodlust, lean and angular, ready at any moment to explode into violence. A Susan Sontag flame of gray hair and burning dark eyes. Benninghofen frightened me; no mean feat this, given how jaded I’ve become in my somewhat advanced age.

And he sings, and sings well. This is, well, a revelation, given that Benninghoffen isn’t an actor one normally associates with musical comedy. His “My Friends,” a resonant paean to his hair splittingly sharp razors (he is a “demon barber,” after all) is lovely. And there is the beyond-brilliant act-ending duet “A Little Priest,” which Benninghofen performs with partner Sally Wingert (more on Ms. W in a moment). Yikes-fire.

In Sondheim’s  Sweeney Todd (written with bookist Hugh Wheeler in 1979) Todd carries a sailor’s knapsack into a seedy, scummy London. Great work here by the design team: Kate Sutton-Johnson (sets); Alice Frederickson (costumes); and Paul Whitacker (lights). He salivates with lust, to revenge himself on the corrupt Judge Turpin (beautiful work by James Ramlet; what I wouldn’t give for a basso profundo voice like his; he makes Sam Elliott look squeaky) who fifteen years earlier destroyed Todd’s sainted family and transported him to Botany Bay on a trumped up charge. Todd teams up with the sweetly evil Mrs. Lovett (Wingert) and becomes the barber of death. “They went to their Maker impeccably shaved.” Yum.

Wingert is a perfect foil to Benninghofen: soft, with a mop of always falling into lovely disarray grey hair, exuding cruel sexuality and callousness. She and Todd decide to fry up Todd’s victims – “You know me, bright ideas always popping into me head.” – into highly saleable meat pies. A dynasty built on vitriol and hate is born. Wingert compels and charms and repels. Yum, once again.

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (directed by the always terrific Peter Rothstein) is one of the best productions to come down ye olde pike in a long while. It features many many marvelous performances. Too many to mention in the short time allotted to me. However, I do have tout the work of  the wonderful Tyler Michaels, who sings (beautifully) “Not While I’m Around.” He also gets to… Well, never mind. See Michaels while you can, before some evil Broadway producer snatches him away from us.

Apologies to everyone else. You’re outstanding.

Definitely recommended.

With a warning: Sweeney Todd copiously uses chemical smoke effects and the smell penetrated my skin, my clothes and made me slightly ill.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book Tell Me A Story In The Dark was recently published. A YA novel, Deep River, is now available. Sideways Stories From Wayside School and Art Dog will be produced at Childsplay Arizona and the Salt Lake Acting Company, respectively. A screenplay, A Slaying Song Tonight, has been optioned. For more info please visit www.johnolive.net.

 

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