Monday, May 3, 2010

Sondheim and a Brilliant "Sweeney Todd"

Stephen Sondheim really pegged some universal truths--greed, vengeance, deceit--in his play "Sweeney Todd"...And an excellent production of the play couldn't have come at a better time. (Perhaps you've heard about some of these problems in society recently?) Anyway, I always think of it as a play about our "modern" capitalist society and its myriad failings, and I was glad to read on the play's wikipedia page, that "Hal Prince believed it to be an allegory of capitalism and its selfish qualities."
Last night's performance of "Sweeney Todd" at the Cygnet Theater in Old Town was as close to a perfect evening of theater as I've had the pleasure to see in many years. And, as the old NYC TV commercial used to go--"that's coming from a kid who's seen a lot of Broadway shows!"
Okay, we did start out with great Mexican food at La Pinata restaurant on Juan Street (try the veggie fajitas for a great filling meal you can still feel "good" about). And we did have Margaritas with dinner...But it is almost Cinco de Mayo, so there!
Of course, that is a lovely spot to walk off a big dinner, so we did...the Cygnet Theater's Old Town venue was just a short stroll away, and it was a nearly balmy, clear and starry spring night...
And speaking of stars, Deborah Gilmour Smyth was astounding as Mrs Lovett! The play is a delicate balance between dark comedy and just plain darkness (cannibalism, murder, and rape), and the linchpin character is Mrs L. If she works, the show works, honestly (Sweeney be damned) and boy does Smyth work. She's like a wacky little engine that always drives the show forward along its quirky track.
Sean Murray is artistic director of the Cygnet(and often co-directs and stars as he did on "Sweeney") and he was excellent as "the Demon Barber of Fleet Street", But as I said, its not his character that really propels the show...In spite of being a frustrated murdering crank, he's not the best "bad guy" in this piece.
That honor goes to the character of Judge Turpin, wonderfully played and sung by Steve Gunderson. Only those who have seen Gunderson's uniquely winning charm, and obscene amount of talent, onstage over the years (in shows like "Suds", "Forever Plaid" and the Globe's "Grinch") will realize what a transformation he has made in becoming this truly horrible and hypocritical sleaze-machine of a human being.
The entire show lived up to these performers, and I could go on about the great supporting cast, and brilliant set, costumes, and music, but don't take my word for it--read one of the many amazing reviews that this show has gotten here. Or if you don't trust reviewers, read the 4-star reviews by actual people on Yelp here. The only bad part is the show closes on May 9th, so if you're in Southern California, or can get there, you'd better buy your tickets now!
And for those who love C.M. Mayo and her writing as much as I do--here's a recent interview with her, by the fine fiction writer Michael Mercer in the Todos Santos (Baja California) publication, "El Candelario." Check it out...
hasta pronto!