U Opera and Utah Philharmonia Brave the Chair of Sondheim’s ‘Sweeney Todd’

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Utah School of Music presents “Sweeney Todd” (Courtesy artstickets.utah.edu)

By Luke Jackson, Arts Writer

 

If you’ve never had the express pleasure of visiting Kingsbury Hall, please literally put whatever you’re reading this on down and take a quick visit. This building is absolutely stunning and so unbelievably, deeply haunted — the spackled cement ceilings, the pipes on the wall, the eerie yellow hanging lights, the larger-than-life portraits on either side of the stage. Anything and everything point to the haunts and specters which are no doubt floating between the squished-in seating. I, personally, cannot imagine a better setting to take in the thrilling tale of everyone’s favorite murdering barber, Sweeney Todd.

A Daunting Task

Taking on one of Sondheim’s most illustrious titles is no small task by any means. The reputation around “Sweeney Todd” creates a daunting expectation and an interesting dichotomy from audiences. Patrons hope to feel the same thrills they felt watching the likes of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, yet they also expect a fresh take on the source material. Pitfalls surround a show like this and I tip my cap for any effort to brave them.

Brilliances and Blunders

The U Opera and Utah Philharmonia proved almost immediately that they have come to play. A shrill and sharp organ began the show, slicing into our ears and placing unease in our hearts — the demon barber is coming, and he will take no mercy. The Philharmonia was nothing short of phenomenal throughout the duration of the show. Quite honestly, they were the primary reason to go and see this spirited rendition of “Sweeney Todd.” The tsunami of sound they created was jaunting and larger than life, heart-stirring and beautiful as the symphony echoed through Kingsbury’s haunted halls.

Unfortunately, the rest of the production was not as flawless. The show took a disappointing turn quite early due to a major technical sound error. The singers of the opening title were unheard as their microphones seemed to be off. Instead of their voices, we heard what sounded like whispers from backstage. This distracted from what could have been a brilliant number. Throughout the show the sound department seemed to struggle with microphones as performers came in and out of earshot seemingly at random.

The struggles didn’t end here. While John K. Allen anchored with a fantastic portrayal as Sweeney, the ensemble often floundered with missed marks, flubbed lines and muddled accents. I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight a commanding performance from Bennet Chew as Judge Turpin.

First Night Jitters

Opening night is always difficult and full of anticipation. With an almost fully packed theatre, I can imagine nerves were very high. I equate many of the above blunders to first night jitters and expect that the direction of the “Sweeney Todd” rocket went up in their closing performance.

Though not all was perfect, “Sweeney Todd” was a fun and enjoyable production. The set was beautiful, the songs were wonderful and the lighting was Broadway level brilliant.

The U Opera and Utah Philharmonia’s “Sweeney Todd” was a smoky and spooky production that is worth the ticket. The darkness of the show was accented perfectly by Kingsbury Hall’s inherit charms. The haunting tale of “Sweeney Todd” will no doubt stay close to your skin long after the curtains close.

 

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