By Cullen Humphreys

Ordinarily, I’d start out an article with a catchy phrase, pun or quote. Not this time. I’m going to stick with something easier and more to the point: Go see Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street—you won’t regret it.

The tale of Sweeney Todd, the barber who cuts a swath of revenge across 19th-century London has been re-envisioned by guest director Michael J. Walling at Saginaw’s Pit and Balcony Community Theatre.

Benjamin Barker is a simple barber who is jailed for crimes he did not commit. Upon returning to London, he discovered the corrupt Judge Turpin, who jailed him, took advantage of his wife and drove her to suicide. Barker who now goes by Sweeney Todd, teams up with baker Mrs. Lovett, and begins his scheme. Together they dispose of the bodies by cooking them up into Mrs. Lovett’s infamous meat pies.

Director Michael Walling has taken the 33-year-old musical and, shall we say- cut it down to size. The three hour long show has been cut down to half. It is now sleek, mean and sharp as Todd’s razor. Gone is the common image of dusty, grimy and filth-covered London you’d expect. It has been replaced with a minimalistic set gilded with gleaming metal and engineered columns and gears. Walling mentions the difference between his version and the original, “The original would actualize everything, they would do all of your imagination for you…but with this sort of suggested production, we give you an opportunity to imagine … Can’t get any more minimalistic.”

Gone too, is the common thought of arterial spray as Todd offs one of his targets. Not a single drop of blood is intentionally shed throughout the performance. While the original had blood spurt towards the audience, Walling purposefully avoided blood, “The audience leaves the show emotionally. They leave the character dying, it’s too easy to be distracted …” Walling quips.

This show was no small feat as you’ll see. Walling comments, “It’s all a challenge. It’s one of the most complicated scores in musical theatre.” He adds, “it rivals an opera, it’s non-stop. They finish a song then it rises back up into another song.”

The cast of veteran actors and actresses gel together to form one solid production. Tony Serra plays the demon barber with a rage so pure; your veins will run cold. Becky Moore as Johanna is cheerful as one could be while under custody of Judge Turpin, played by Kevin Profitt, who surprises with an eerily slimy performance. Katie Beltran plays a meaningful beggar woman with bawdy charm. Jessica Bocade plays the snake oil salesman Pirelli, along side her is Kendall VanAmburg as Toby. Carly Peil, Neil Schultz and Dan Taylor all play their parts with admirable and talented conviction. And if I were you, I wouldn’t go to dinner any time soon at Laura Peil’s house after seeing her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett because who knows what you’ll be served.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs May 11th through 13th and 17th through the 20th. More information, online ticket sales and directions can be found at www.pitandbalconytheatre.com or by phone at 989.754.6588. 

© Cullen Humphreys, 2012