Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre

~ The Sunday Express by Mark Shenton - 25/03/12 ~

A COUPLE of weeks ago I co-hosted a lunch in London to present legendary Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who turned 82 on Thursday, with the Critics’ Circle annual award for distinguished services to the arts.

No one in the modern era of musicals has challenged and stretched the form more, though the work of Britain’s own Andrew Lloyd Webber may have a more popular touch, with two of his earliest successes currently being revived on Broadway.

Meanwhile, however, Britain is offering Sondheim another honour with spellbinding productions of two of his thrilling masterpieces. In an age of bubblegum musicals, it’s gratifying that there’s still room for something as gritty, witty and musically gorgeous as Sweeney Todd. It provides plenty to chew on, too.

This is a queasily disturbing musical about of a man who becomes a serial killer and turns the local population into unwitting cannibals, with the help of Fleet Street pie shop owner Mrs Lovett. It’s a production that is bloody brilliant in every sense, but it’s not just an exercise in horror; even as the body count mounts up.

It’s also a powerful, poignant journey into a man’s tormented soul and, in the expertly judged changes of tone of Jonathan Kent’s production, it is frequently hilarious, too.

The power and magnitude comes from Michael Ball’s utter immersion into the title role that renders him all but unrecognisable, while the humour and utter heartlessness is gloriously supplied by Imelda Staunton in fine, fierce comic voice as Mrs Lovett. They are unmissable.

Sondheim recently said that he hopes Staunton will next play Madame Rose, a terrifying monster of a stage mother in Gypsy, the 1959 musical he provided lyrics for; by coincidence, that show has been tremendously revived at Leicester’s Curve, with Caroline O’Connor superbly charting the tragedy of a woman who lives her life damagingly through her daughters.

(read the rest of the reviews on the website)



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