Thursday, November 12, 2009

belated review of *Sweeney Todd* at U-Hi

It was great on Saturday night to catch the closing performance of director Briane Green's production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at University High School -- full house, lots of folks from the Civic both in the crowd and involved in the show.
The buzz was that this was an exceptionally good high school show -- and the buzz proved to be correct. Technical elements were outstanding and the leads' voices and acting were solid. Briane Green (due in December -- congratulations!) has directed and choreographed with inventiveness.
Carolyn Jess sounded ominous chords on the keyboard at the outset, and Russ Seaton served as an energetic musical director. Dan Heggem (before showtime, mischievous, apologetic, lollipop-sucking) designed the dramatic lighting, Briane's husband George did the set. (Let's take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate people like these, who toil night after night at all kinds of shows, each making his or her talented contributions to local theater. Seriously. These are folks who sacrifice time (away from loved one) and money (they could be doing something else to bring in more income, God knows) and yet they keep on working at stuff that they love. That's not time wasted -- that's a life well lived. Bravo to all. Without artists like you, we wouldn't have a local theater scene.)
More on George Green's set design: Angular 2-by-4's descend from the ceiling. A practical and elaborate shop for Mrs. Loveit, with baking implements hung out front, rickety stairs on the side leading up to Sweeney's abbatoir up top: no walls, but a barber chair-with-death-slide that brought creeped-out-then-amused reactions from onlookers. When a two-story set piece swings out into view with a knife-wielding maniac up on top (or the damsel in distress, Johanna, rolls out, singing, on top of industrial scaffolding, whirling around her lover Anthony as they share a duet, it not only makes for effective and quick scene openings and exits, but it also creates a dizzying sense of visual variety.
Jordan Taylor's Sweeney had a commanding presence, both vocally and physically.
For "Pirellis' Miracle Elixir," he adopted far too casual body language -- I would have preferred remote, motionless, creepier -- but that's a minor quibble.
Kylene Peden (Mrs. Loveit) has mastered the art of subtly augmenting lyrics with gestures that reinforce their meaning. In "A Little Priest" and "By the Sea" in particular, she helped the narrative along by using her entire body while avoiding grandiose, melodramatic mannerisms. Sassy, practical, lower-class and conniving, she was a likeable Mrs. Loveit, an offhanded accomplice to butchery with a wicked sense of humor. Well done.
Right from "There's No Place Like London" and on through "Johanna" and its reprises, you could tell that Ross Mumford had an expressive voice as Anthony. Maybe it was the high-waisted sailor's trousers that he had on, but Mumford adopted a forward-leaning, slender eagerness in his posture that suited Anthony's love-yearning very well.
I would definitely pay to see Taylor, Peden and Mumford again, and I hope to see them again on local stages.
Most of the other roles were fulfilled capably -- of course there was some drop-off in the ensemble, and the Johanna was far too operatic and diction-bobbled for my taste** -- such that the thought "this is really good for a high school show" blended over into "this is just a really good show."
In the light of (unsuccessful) challenges to "controversial" high school shows in Las Vegas recently, it's great that U-Hi has encouraged a Sondheim show like this one (even if all the blood was edited out. Silly, if you think of it -- turn on any popular police procedural on network TV, to cite any one of numerous examples, and you'll see plenty of blood and guts.) ...
In fact, there is a serious argument to be made to high school administrators that excising the blood was a LESS moral move than leaving it in: Serial murders kept spotless only perpetuate the comic-book and summer-movie FANTASY that offing somebody doesn't really involve harm. It's like the Bush administration denying any photos of coffins returning from Iraq. It's like movie violence in which the guy gets shot but there's scarcely any blood. Ask anybody who's actually seen a victim of violence -- there's plenty of it. When are people gonna learn that images of violence (when not allowed to become addictive, and when discussed probingly by parents, friends, teachers) are actually a means of helping small children, teens and adults deal with our fears (of muggings, terrorism, war)?
But the CV district, still, deserves kudos. And so do Green and her cast. I'm glad I added another Sweeney to my collection. 
** Note to Breanna Duffy: In the his first college show -- and in a very positive review of Shakespeare's The Tempest — Bobo was singled out as the worst part of the production. Playing a young lover was beyond my talent, it seems. (One guy's opinion. I bounced back, lived, resolved to do otherwise in other shows.)

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At November 13, 2009 9:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrat's u guy's rocked it out!


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