Give me captions! Sweeney Todd will be showing until this Sunday, October 29th at The Hobby Center, here in Houston, TX. Produced by Theatre Under the Stars, the production brings some of the opera genre into this musical sensation. I highly recommend watching Tim Burton’s 2007 film (with captions) or reading a quick synopsis online (if you’re stretched for time) to get the general gist of the story before heading over to see this production. I’ll be completely transparent; it was a bit challenging to understand all of the words due to the operatic singing, characters talking fast, and not being familiar with the source material (as I was looking forward to going into this story blind). Because of this, I quickly realized that I would have to stay laser-focused on every word that I did comprehend for this musical’s underlying beautiful story to come together vividly. However, fans who are familiar with the film/source material should greatly appreciate the production, which has much to admire (and after spending my 15-minute intermission reading a quick overview of the story, Act II was much more compelling and, ultimately, a recommendation!) If you go in already knowing the main beats of the story, it will make for an entertaining viewing.
Sweeney Todd (Danny Rothman) takes on the persona of a barber with Ms. Lovett (Sally Wilfert) (a pie shop owner) and together they plan on slaughtering the customers who need a haircut to use as meat for Lovett’s shop. More than anything, Todd yearns to slit the throat of the judge (Brian Mathis) who wrongfully incarcerated him years before for a crime he did not commit and inflicting terrible chaos on him and his family.
The moral of the story is to check Yelp before you get your next haircut! Jokes aside, the story is unique and unlike anything I have seen before. Despite Sweeney Todd’s crazy outlandish terrifying behavior you can’t help but feel bad for what he’s endured, but you still know at the end of the day he is awful for ending innocent human lives. Rothman’s performance as the protagonist balances an instant likability from the way he speaks and moves / the character’s troubled past with his monstrous killing actions, resulting in an incredibly complex and intriguing character that was enjoyable to follow. Rothman’s sublime bass/baritone voice has power and the bottom-rock low notes (which I thought were the most impressive) were sung with an incredible amount of vibrant color and a texture that stands out from most other voices. Sally Wilfert’s character Ms. Lovett brings forth a carefree whimsical energy (similar to Madam Mim from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone); she’s loud, she’s sinister, and finds nothing wrong with cooking murdered humans. The duo who perform frequently together complement each other effectively.
The production design by Mike Tutaj is outstanding. The set is immaculate, combining practical sets that the characters walk into with background screens that reveal much detail. There are realistic blood effects when the evil duo eliminates the various customers who come in for their cut. The lighting design by Jason Lyons strikes a haunting mood. The costumes made by Colleen Grady take us out of the world of 2023 and into the 19th-century era. The ensemble brings forth a choral force that allows several numbers to have a powerful impact.
The narrative arrives at the climax with tons of twists and turns that are sure to shock, delight, and frighten the audience. By the time we get to the end, there’s much you learn regarding the identities of a few characters that completely shake up the story. The effective horror you will witness and the bombshell curveballs that the plot throws your way make Sweeney Todd a TUTS performance you don’t want to miss!