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Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Sondheim’s Masterpiece ‘Sweeney Todd’ receives magnificent treatment from LONJ

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The Light Opera of New Jersey has just ended their 22nd season with a spectacular presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpiece, the dark-humored thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Simply put-- this production is worthy of any stage, anywhere. It can be described with one word….WOW! Beyond the excellent cast and orchestra, the creative team is deserving of their own standing ovations, particularly Jeffrey Fiorello, one of our finest directors. Jeffrey is a very talented performer, but his directing credits have been consistently outstanding, LONJ’s 2015 ‘A Little Night Music ‘ for example. Also, Stephen Fox for music direction, Samantha Hahn Simpson for choreography; Pamela Wilczynski ringmaster (stage manager) and Bill Corson producer. Bill and his wife, Lauran Corson are the driving force behind the LONJ. Bill is the company’s Executive Director, and Lauran is the Artistic Director. Bill is also a member of the ensemble…. he makes a terminal exit at the hands of Todd.

The plot: Returning from exile, Benjamin Barker arrives in London under the name of Sweeney Todd in order to exact his revenge on the judge who exiled him in order to steal his wife. Todd resumes his old residence in his barber shop over the meat pie establishment of Mrs. Lovett. A competing barber, Adolfo Pirelli, recognizes Todd and threatens to reveal him to the authorities, causing Sweeney to kill Pirelli in a rage. When Mrs. Lovett discovers the body, she proposes disposing of it through her meat pies as she hasn’t been able to afford real meat for weeks. Todd and Lovett continue to plot together, throats are slit, and business begins to flourish! This is clearly not ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Barber!’

The staging is absolutely major league. Terrific choreography, impressive scenery (Beau Kennedy), clever props (Christine Hahn props mistress), lighting design (Diane Giangreco), sound design (Rob Cruz), Amy Calzone and Beth Gleason hair & makeup, and spot-on costumes (Scaramouche of Chester). In fact, many of the Scaramouche costumes are originals from the New York Opera’s 2004 revival. Franne Lee was the NYO designer. Sweeney Todd’s versitile barber chair is also from the NYO production.

st2Now the outstanding lead performers, Ken Garcia as Sweeney Todd and Julie Galorenzo as Mrs. Lovett (top photo and right). They both nailed their parts. Superior voices, excellent acting. Garcia was properly threatening as the demon of Fleet Street. Would he not be terrific as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables? Julie Galorenzo could easily make you forget Angela Lansbury’s TONY turn in the role. Her Mrs. Lovett can be sweet and even generous when needed, but always with an indefinable sinister element. She is amusing with her ‘By The Sea’ solo, and nicely maternal with the duet with Tobias  ‘Not While I’m Around.’ Both Garcia and Galorenzo gave WOW performances.

Playing Anthony Hope, the sailor friend of Sweeney Todd, is the also impressive Shane Long. He is perfect as the unwelcomed suitor for Todd’s daughter Joanna (and ward of the evil Judge Turpin). His ‘Joanna’ solo is a first act highlight.

The supporting players, all beautifully cast, are: Ruth Kenote, she has fun as the Beggar Woman; Charles Schneider is the nasty, quick to hang Judge Turpin who desires Joanna; Joseph Hill is a delight as the Beadle. He has a fun turn with Mrs. Lovett with ‘Parlor Songs’ in the second act; Caitlin Alongi is a lovely, fine voiced Joanna; Thomas Carey Gsell is most impressive with his exuberate sales pitch for Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir and the aforementioned ‘Not While I’m Around’ with Mrs. Lovett; Frank Hughes has great fun as Pirelli, who earns a close shave by Todd; Will Carey is fine as Jonas Fogg.

st chorusThe ensemble included: Robert Allan, Heath Weisberg, Daraius Phillips, Kevin Ohlweiler, Michelle Finnerty, Joanna Hoty Russell, Jesse Bush, Bill Corson, Jessica Walch, Morgan Assante, Katie Meo, Tracey Lynne Haskell, Adelaide Prekopa, and Susan Ramirez.

Stephen Fox’ orchestra included: Nancy Vanderslice clarinet/oboe; Ivan Mendoza violin; Sariah Johnson cello; Andrew Pecota bassoon; Lois Buesser keyboard; Kyle Anderson horn; Chris Arnold trumpet; John Zimmermann bass; and John Leister percussion.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   July 23, 2017

Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Fleet Street—(Broadway 1979), the acclaimed musical adaptation by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler starring Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett.

The venue for the LONJ’s production was the theatre at SOPAC in South Orange, New Jersey.

MORE CAST PHOTOS BELOW

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