Published On: Mon, Apr 15th, 2013

“Sweeney Todd” An Admirable Production of a Difficult Show

By Skip Sheffield

“Sweeney Todd” is a show to be admired, if not embraced with love. The challenging Stephen Sondheim musical in its entirety is on the boards just through Sunday, April 21 at West Boca High School Performing Arts Theatre.

It is hard to love a character who vengefully slits the throats of people who have

done him wrong- and sometimes does the same to complete strangers.

Director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater has chosen to present an unabridged version of Sondheim’s 1979 musical. While this is admirable, it means this production of “Sweeney” is longer than most of us have seen. Fitzwater even warned us it is two hours, 35 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Starring as the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is Slow Burn Theatre’s co-founder Matthew Korinko.

Korinko has a strong, pleasant baritone voice befitting his character, and he even went to the effort of growing real muttonchop sideburns to look like a 19th century London swashbuckler.

Korinko also accentuates the underlying heartbreak of his character, who has just emerged from prison and assumed a new name. Sweeney is no random crazy guy. He mourns the death of his wife and the absence of his beloved daughter Joanna (Kaela Antolino) whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years.

By stroke of fate Sweeney meets Mrs. Lovett (Karen Chandler) maker of “The Worst Pies in London,” one of the score’s funniest songs.

Mrs. Lovett is a widow who has designs upon handsome Sweeney. She allows him to set up his new barbershop in a spare room. To drum up business, Sweeney challenges the vain, foppish Pirelli (Rick Pena) to a duel of skills. In that time barbers not only shaved and cut hair, but pulled teeth.

The talented Pena is also the company’s costume designer. He has made some minor miracles in his time with Slow Burn and this show is now exception.

Little Bruno Vida plays the orphan boy Tobias, who befriends Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. His high tenor voice is one of the loveliest in the cast. Also in fine voice is Christian Vandepas, who plays Johanna’s callow boyfriend, Anthony.

Shawn Wayne King makes a properly dastardly villain, Judge Turpin, who eyes his ward Johanna with bad intent. When she rebus him it will get worse for the innocent lass, making the viewer sympathize with Sweeney all the more.

A special note to Ann Marie Olson for her mysterious beggar woman for both her singing and acting.

The opera-like musical score and tongue-twisting lyrics are devilishly complex, but this cast of non-union and professional actors execute it well with the help of musical director Manny Schvartzman and a small but precise combo, which includes a churchy organ.

This is not “Some Enchanted Evening” in the romantic sense, but it is funny, lively entertainment with a nod to history. Thankfully Fitzwater has not elected to go all gory with fake blood as I’ve seen in some other productions. The story is nasty enough in pantomime without special effects pantomime.

Tickets are $35 adults, $30 seniors and $20 students. Call 866-811-4111 or go to slowburntheatre.org.

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