July August, 2009

Off The Wall Theatre was filled with the music of Stephen Sondheim, as it proudly presented a production of his most acclaimed musical, SWEENEY TODD.  This epic musical was the most ambitious show ever mounted in the tiny theatre on Wells Street, featuring a cast of over twenty, musical accompaniment including trumpet, percussion, strings, and piano, a wickedly creative set by Director Dale Gutzman and Technical Director David Roper, and some of the finest actors in town giving the performances of their lives. 

Based upon the English Myth and the melodramas it engendered, SWEENEY TODD, tells the story of a man wrongly condemned for a crime he did not commit, and his attempts to get revenge upon the Judge who ruined his  life, raped his wife and now controls his daughter. Sweeney Todd returns to London after fifteen years, sets up his barber shop and practices on "less honorable throats" while he waits for the Judge and his henchman, Beadle Bamford, to take the chair. Meanwhile in the Pie Shop down below, the very practical Mrs. Lovett sees no reason to let good meat go to waste, and thus incorporates Todd's victims into her recipe book! The show is not only powerfully moving, terribly scary, and majestic in it's themes, it is also awfully funny in a very wicked sort of way. 

Part of the genius of the piece lies in the way Sondheim and book write Hugh Wheeler twist musical themes around the actions of the various characters. The show is more than 80 percent sung, and each of the main melodies returns time and time again, but always in altered or sometimes inverted states to remind us of the twisted lives of these desperate people. Whereas once all productions of the show were grand and rather gigantic, recent mountings have proven that Sondheim was correct when he suggested that the show actually is improved by an intimate "in your face" presentation. He wanted audience to have the feel that they were sitting in a horror film with a kind of constant "Bernard Hermann" like underscoring punctuating the action. In spite of its grotesqueries, what makes the show work is how much fun it is. Some of the most beautiful music ever written for the stage is combined with action, adventure, broad comedy, and romance to create the perfect theatre evening.

Under the Direction of Dale Gutzman and Musical Direction of Anne Van Deusen, the cast for Sweeney Todd was a collection of local super talents. The vengeful barber was played by Robert Hirschi, who has impressed audiences for years in important roles at numerous local theatres. He recently played Herbie in GYPSY at Off the Wall. He has been in over two dozen Gutzman productions. Playing Mrs. Lovett will be one of Milwaukee's favorite and most versatile actresses, Marilyn White

In everything from JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS, to GRAND HOTEL, Ms. White has garnered rave reviews and audience adulation. As the wicked Judge Turpin, David Flores added yet another amazing character role to his astonishing repertoire. And as Beadle Bamford, the judge's assistant, Jeremy Welter once again transformed himself into a character with absolutely no redeeming qualities. The young innocent sailor Anthony was sung and acted by Evan Meyer, and his love Johanna, Todd's daughter,was played by Alison Grauer.  The mysterious mad beggar woman who predicts the fatal events of the tale was played by Sharon Rise, who in the 2008-09 season wowed Milwaukee with her performance of Rose in GYPSY, and Donald Lobacz one of the members of FOUR GUYS IN DINNER JACKETS, which just closed an engagement at the Skylight Theatre played Pirelli, Todd's competitor barber. 

One of the most interesting characters in the show is the young slightly demented boy Toby, whom Mrs. Lovett takes under her dubious wing. Toby sings the Sondheim hit ballad, "Not While I'm Around." In the Off the Wall production, the role of Toby was played by Ryan Stjamiger, the high school student who recently impressed critics and audiences alike at Windfall Theatre. 

Also appearing in the show in a myriad of character roles were Off the Wall regulars Kristin Pagenkopf, Heather Reynolds, Lawrence Lukasavage, Heidi Whoelck, and Michael Davis and new to our theatre, Chris Jones, and Sally Fritzsch, Jessica Woodburn, Sadie Glaspey and others.