Review by Anina-Marie
Phoenix Ensemble’s production of Sweeney Todd is spine-tingling. The perfect mix of genuine emotion and the bizarrely macabre, this show takes the audience along for an iconic anti-hero journey.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street debuted on Broadway in 1979 with music and lyrics from the late, great Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler. Based on Christopher Bond’s 1973 play of the same, the musical tells the tale of Sweeney Todd, an unjustly exiled barber who returns to nineteenth century London to seek revenge against the lecherous judge who framed him and ravaged his wife. On his quest for vengeance, Todd finds pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett and together they unleash a murderous plot that quickly spirals out of control.
In the wake of Sondheim’s passing, Phoenix Ensemble under the leadership of Director Shane Webb bravely embark on staging this masterpiece. The result is an excellent community theatre production of a high standard. Shane’s direction (supported by Ren Gerry and Georgie Schofield) provides a meaningful interpretation of the text cleverly presented on a very small two-tiered stage. The savvy blocking drives the action forward and the transitions are quick, smooth and almost unnoticeable – in a word, outstanding!
Nicky Griffith’s Musical Direction (with assistance from Benjamin Richards) is of a very high standard, drawing quality vocal performances from the actors supported by an excellent orchestra. The orchestra should be highly commended for their musicality; for delivering a note perfect performance of Sondheim’s tricky instrumentals.
The Choreography by Victoria Sica is superb, making full use of the small space. Designed to bring out the very best in the actors, the dance sequences add a wonderful aspect to contrast the dark themes of the show.
In the titular role of Sweeney Todd, Lionel Theunissen delivers a spectacular performance. Lionel is the perfect Sweeney and the absolute star of this show; terrifying and yet relatable at his core. Lionel’s acting chops has the audience in league with Sweeney despite his terrible, vengeful quest. Lionel is an excellent vocalist who sings the tricky Sondheim rhythms and melodies with ease even when they are at odds with the accompaniment.
Along for the ride with Sweeney is the marvellous Meg Kiddle as Mrs. Lovett. Meg’s performance is perfect from beginning to end. A highly accomplished vocalist, Meg sings Mrs. Lovett’s endless tricky phrases impeccably. Together Lionel and Meg, share an undeniable chemistry that make this production a joy to experience. Their duet “A Little Priest” at the end of the second act is phenomenal.
In the romantic lead roles, Daniel Lelic and Ebony Banks as Anthony and Johanna respectively are both great. These two add a much-needed injection of sweet innocence to the show with their puppy-love. Daniel’s rendition of “I Feel You, Johanna” is hauntingly beautiful. Ebony’s Johanna is the perfect balance of sweet and curious, showcasing her skill as an actor.
As Judge Turpin, Alex Dundas Taylor delivers a terrifying performance that makes the skin crawl. As Turpin’s head honcho, Puawai Herewini portrays the sinister Beadle Bamford with professionalism and skill. Together Alex and Puawai create the perfect villainous pair.
Hudson Bertram portrays the sweet fool, Tobias, with a performing skill well beyond his mere 16 years of age. Hudson’s delivery feels authentic from beginning to end despite the archetypical nature of the character. As Adolfo Pirelli, Joshua Moore is another absolute standout of this show. Joshua’s hilarious portrayal of this eccentric character is highly memorable and pure entertainment.
As Beggar Woman, Sophia Dimopoulos (Mrs. Lovett Cover) is phenomenal. Sophia stepped in at the last minute to cover this role during this particular show since cast member, Chloe Evans, was unwell. Sophia throws herself into this role with complete commitment and it shows. Sophia’s strong vocals and excellent acting shines through in this production.
Rounding out this spectacular show is an extremely talented ensemble consisting of Andrew McArthur, Caelen Culpeper, Emma Parkinson, Jack Rabbidge, Joshua Brandon, Kiarra Benjamin, Levi Rayner, Laura Rodwell, Maegan Weir, Marina Pennisi, Michael Chazikantis, Michael Redfern, Sally Faint and Sarah Engelsmann. This ensemble does a wonderful job at cultivating the atmosphere of the production and building a believable world.
Overall, Phoenix Ensemble’s production of Sweeney Todd is a marvellous example of the power of community theatre; showcasing the wide variety of talents of actors, dancers and musician as they come together to create an immersive world.
If you’re looking for a spooky adventure this May, then look no further! This production also features a delectable little surprise during interval. It is not to be missed.
Sweeney Todd will play until 28 May at the Beenleigh Showgrounds. Tickets are on sale now.