Manoa Valley Theatre’s revival of “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” is stunning and seductive with a syncopation of elements that give it its specific pulse.
This becomes obvious, in the early moments of the production, when musical director Joe Pacheco’s nine-piece orchestra starts the rhythmic tones from an angular huddle on stage left, quickly joined by the splendid ensemble appearing in synch and unity of movements of James Wright’s expressive choreography on “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” a charismatic and expressive intro to theatrics to come.
Director Stephanie Conching has the skills of a maestro, moving her actors like notes in an aria, yielding visual soloists and ensemble choruses that clearly lighten and brighten this dark, sinister work by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and Hugh Wheeler (book), from an adaptation by Christopher Bond.
I’ve seen perhaps six or seven “Sweeney” productions over the decades, and each has its own personality and pizzazz.
I recall the original, directed by Harold Prince, with Len Cariou as Todd and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett, in a mammoth staging with even a catwalk, and the less-is-more version when Patti LuPone sang and played the tuba. And yes, I took in the latest Broadway revival in July directed by Thomas Kail, with Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford (with voices from heaven).
But worry not this one is as good as it gets. This cast is remarkable, rich in depth and definition, creating vivid characterizations.
Sally Swanson is Mrs. Lovett, Kyle Malis is Sweeney Todd.
Kyle Malis, with shiny bald pate, is a Todd with a huge baritone voice and is cut-throat spooky with a blade. Not to worry; no blood splashes since the red stuff are fabric which flows whenever there’s a victim in the barber’s chair.
Sally Swanson, as Mrs. Lovett, has a huge personality and projects power and assurance. But her bakery to peddle her meat pies made from victims of Todd’s barber shop upstairs, is mostly a tray and table with a meat grinder downstairs. She is a co-conspirator in the crimes.
Kenna Shafter is Johanna, Miguel Cadoy III is Anthony.
Miguel Cadoy III, as Anthony, the suitor infatuated with Johanna, possesses the show’s most romantic voice, singing “Johanna,” one of the repeating tunes in the score; Johanna, played by Kenna Shafter, is the daughter of Todd, has a sweet demeanor demonstrated on “Kiss Me,” a duet with Cadoy, as they plan to run away together.
Kimo Kaona, as Judge Turpin, is corrupt as they come – manipulating and menacing as a dishonest father, lording over Johanna as his prisoner.
Buffy Kahalepuna-Wong, left, as the mysterious Beggar Woman, has threatening entrances and exits, so she brings bold presence to the crowd, an oracle not to be dismissed. And she possesses a secret identity.
Rocco Bechirian, as Tobias, renders an unexpected beaut of a tune, “Not While I’m Around” with Swanson.
Mira Fey’s set design is a two-level wonderment, with three staircases (the ork’s nestled ‘neath one) and barely enough space for Todd’s new barber chair, with the seat dropping corpses to the first floor. At MVT, real estate is limited, and Fey manages to compact doorways and corridors with efficiency, allowing a spacious central dance floor, if you will, for the large ensemble.
Costume designer Amber Lehua Baker showcases vintage styles to suit a range of body types, and Lisa Ponce de Leon’s hair and makeup live up to her usual magic. Willie Sabel’s scenic contributions are eye appealing.
MVT Goes Ticket-less
Starting this season, with “Sweeney Todd, the Demon
Barber of Fleet Street,” there’s no longer a physical ticket
If you have reservations, just provide your name
and ID like a driver’s license. and attendants will verify
your seat numbers.
Janine Myers’ lighting design and Hanale Ka‘anapu’s sound design are fitting for the needs, with two levels of consideration.
“Sweeney” is a box office hit, but here’s a tip: three more performances have just been added Oct. 6, 7 and 8. …
And that’s Show Biz. …
“Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
A musical by Stephen Sondheim, with book by Hugh Wheeler, from an adaptation by Christopher Bond
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre
When: Remaining shows, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 and 29, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 and 30, and 3 p.m. Sept. 24; extension shows at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 and 7, and 3 p.m. Oct. 8.
Tickets: $25 to $45, available at www.manoavalleytheatre.com or (808) 988-6131.