Some people are resistant to Sondheim’s musical about a vengeful barber because of its subject matter.
Serial murder and cannibalism can come as quite a shock when you’re sitting there expecting someone to sing about the waving wheat that sure smells sweet or some similar subject matter.
But you really need to set such misgivings aside. The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s current production of Sweeney Todd is quite simply the finest show that venerable community theater organization has presented in many a year. It fires on all cylinders as they say in the automotive game.
In the title role, Todd Frymier is riveting. His Sweeney Todd is both wracked and coiled. He seems simultaneously defeated and verging on conflagration.
Even if you consider yourself an easily distracted person, I assure you that you will forget to glance at your phone while Frymier commands the stage.
You may even forget you have a phone. You may even forget what a phone is.
Todd’s eventual partner-in-crime-and-more, Mrs. Lovett, is played by local educator Amy Ross, who returns to the Civic stage after a two-decade hiatus. When you see what Ross does here, you will selfishly and petulantly lament the performances you were denied for those two decades. It’s not fair to her to feel this way — she was busy working and raising her kids — but you won’t be able to help yourself.
Ross gives the sort of performance that makes a community theater aficionado think, “It’s sort of outrageous that she’s not being paid to do this.”
The chemistry that Frymier and Ross share is glorious. The fun that these consummate theater professionals have sparring and roistering with each other on stage is commensurate with the fun you will have watching them.
It’s almost unfair to single out any performance in this production. There isn’t a weak link in the chain. Aaron Robertson as the young paramour, Anthony Hope; Brooke O’Mara as Johanna, the imprisoned daughter; Michael Coale as the immoral Judge Turpin; Gary Lanier as the Beadle; Melissa Junkin Shaw as the mysterious beggar woman — they all do things on stage that will make you feel like you paid too little for your ticket.
Unequivocal kudos go to director and choreographer Leslie Beauchamp, assistant director Christopher J. Murphy, set designer Corey Lee, costume designer Angela Sahli, and music director Ben Wedler. Everything is first-rate.
If you are the sort of person who would rather go to a movie than a show, I can assure you that there is nothing playing at the multiplex right now that is even half as entertaining as the Civic’s Sweeney Todd.
This is the sort of show that could make an inveterate moviegoer and theaterphobe wonder for the first time why he has always preferred movies to shows. It’s that good.
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