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
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
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