Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Directed by Richard Block. Musical director Leonard Weiss. Dramatic Productions. Gungahlin College Theatre. Until October 21. Bookings: 6253 1454 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm) or stagecenta.com.
It's always good to see Sweeney Todd return. It's a musical of a dark nature with a gruesome story that comes out of Victorian England. And it is given a forthright production by Richard Block, led by David Pearson's powerful and brooding Todd and well supported by a mostly youthful company who clearly delight in the material and its ironies.
Todd returns to London having been wrongfully transported to Australia by Judge Turpin (Max Gambale) who covets Todd's wife and later his daughter Johanna (Demi Smith). His rescuer is the young sailor Anthony (Lachlan Agett) who shortly falls in love with Johanna. Todd falls in with Mrs Lovett (Meaghan Stewart), who owns a very run-down pie shop. She is quick to recognise him and to recognise a business opportunity when Todd's first murder leaves them both with an inconvenient body to dispose of.
After that it's cheerfully (if grimly) downhill all the way, with Sondheim's magnificent score, which receives excellent treatment here from Leonard Weiss and the orchestra, sweeping the audience along.
Some of the production's choices are questionable. Does Sondheim's Sweeney Todd really need celebrity guest victims or rubber hands sticking out of the bakehouse grinder or actual pies being thrown around the stage? Do Mrs Lovett's dreams of marital bliss in By the Sea need a full-blown production number? It's done with style and humour but it obscures the interplay in that song between what she wants and what Sweeney is and lands her with an awkward costume change.
But the vigour of the show is there.
Judge Turpin's disturbing song of self-mortification has a history of being cut. But even without it Gambale's performance makes the judge's predatory nature clear and he is well supported in evil by Joseph McGrail-Bateup's nastily smiling Beadle Bamford.
Agett could sweeten his singing a little at times but certainly has the right presence for Anthony. Smith makes a fine Johanna and they combine convincingly.
Bradley McDowell convinces as Pirelli, Sweeney's showman of a rival. Sian Harrington's frequent appearances as the demented Beggar Woman unsettle. Liam Jackson's Tobias Ragg is still looking for the pathos but certainly has the gusto of the role. And in the brief role of the Bird Seller, Ros Engledow sets the tone of Sondheim's cruel London by what she reveals about the birds she sells.
Stewart as a young Mrs Lovett whose attraction to Sweeney must have stemmed from a childhood crush makes a resolute attack on a daunting role and more than holds her own against Pearson's self-absorbed Sweeney. Together they lead the company and embody the evil duo very well indeed.
It's certainly worth a trip up to Gungahlin.