Chicago Theatre Review
Stellar “Sweeney Todd” at Drury Lane
Drury Lane pulls out all the stops with Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd at Drury Lane Theater, Oakbrook Terrace
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
Runs August 11-October 9, 2011
Tickets $35-$46; Box Office (630) 530-0111
Review by Darcy Rose Coussens
Whatever your theatergoing plans are for the upcoming months, make sure Drury Lane is your first stop. Their delightfully gruesome Sweeney Todd, expertly directed and choreographed by the accomplished Rachel Rockwell, is the knockout of musicals. Broadway actors Gregg Edelman and Liz McCartney head the solid cast as Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. Edelman has four Tony nominations to his credit, and once he sings it’s easy to see why. McCartney is wildly funny as Lovett, and her unparalleled energy keeps the show rolling smoothly and swiftly to the murderous end.
With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, this is the dark tale of a deranged barber set on revenge. After fifteen years in exile from a false accusation, Benjamin Barker, now calling himself Sweeney Todd, returns to seek his beautiful wife and daughter. The clever set design (Kevin Depinet) creatively copes with the many changes of scenery, using a large cube that rotates to change settings. The lights are an integral part of the show, projecting images of London, a shipyard, or even blood (avoiding any messy goo) on the reflective backdrop. Jesse Klug’s commendable lighting design adds quite a few creepy effects, including a disturbing asylum of silhouettes through hanging strips of plastic. Only hands emerge to grasp at the sailor Anthony when he visits to rescue Johanna, Sweeney’s daughter.
I will say that despite Edelman’s powerful voice and commanding presence, his Sweeney wasn’t all that scary. He seethed quietly, which didn’t quite sell him as a tortured, vengeful man who slaughters his customers. Kevin Gudahl’s Judge Turpin could have been more evil, as well, instead coming across as somewhat bumbling and naïve. Their duet “Pretty Women” was one of the best songs, though, and overall this show was such a knockout that it is impossible to dwell on these details. George Keating is a stitch as the cooky rival barber Pirelli, and his young helper Toby is played by the charming Jonah Rawitz. Although I am guessing he will soon outgrow such high voiced parts, Rawitz sings the part well and completely won me over.
Sweeney Todd is a lively, fun musical (albeit morbidly so), but Drury Lane pulls out all the stops. The audience shouted with laughter at Sweeney’s barber chair, which actually drops his victims to the pie shop below where they are considered ingredients. McCartney and Edelman enjoy endless puns in the meat pie shop scene with “A Little Priest,” and the cast perfectly balances the humor and darkness. Multi-Jeff Award winner Rachel Rockwell has a knack for creating seamless productions, and between the exceptional cast, designers, and direction, this production stands as one of her best.