My first trip to Aurora Community Theatre is impressive, with a theatre space that is captivating and very inviting. They have chosen the epic Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as their current offering. I applaud the theatre for choosing such a demanding piece, and stretching the local talent to their limits. This is a community theatre that certainly isn’t afraid of tackling such a musical theatre demon.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a 1979 musical thriller with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical is based on the 1973 play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond. Set in 19th century England, the musical tells the story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd (Thomas E. Love), who returns to London after 15 years in prison after being convicted on trumped-up charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who sentenced him, he vows revenge on the judge and, later, other people too. He teams up with a pie maker, Mrs. Lovett (Ann Nyenhuis), and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies. It is a barbaric relationship wrought with lies and deception. Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 and in the West End in 1980. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Olivier Award for Best New Musical.
Love cuts a fine figure of Todd, and has an effective voice to carry off one of the best baritone roles in theatre. He tends to overuse the despondent, reflective, and gazing look out into the audience. I liked him best when he opened up and let us see the more reactive and emotional Sweeney. This does happen, but not enough. Ann Nyenhuis as Mrs. Lovett captured the look very well, and her vocals were pretty much on target, but felt a little strained on top. My biggest critique would be to just go for it and have fun. Anthony Hope and Johanna (Andy Novak and Carolyn Voorhees) made for an adorable couple within the angst of this piece. Novak had a solid, but young voice, which could have used more internal interpretation underlying the lyrics. Voorhees was charming, and her voice was a welcome addition to the evening. Her manic giddiness was refreshing.
Some of the best performances come from the supporting roles. There is no doubt that Mike Rogan, as Judge Turpin, will be dating his whip for weeks to come, and it would not surprise me if his wife makes him walk through a car wash on the way home. Justin Roth was great at Tobias Ragg, when he wasn’t overplaying the childish angle. His voice is solid and his diction was excellent. He was a treat to watch. As the Adolfo Pirelli, Michael Guffey, was a hot mess of overdone fun, with a terrific tenor belt that made Pirelli come alive. And, his own turn to the dark side was well done. One of my favorites was Shannon Eller as the Beggar Woman. She engages the audience by being a bit nutty and begging for money, then she quickly and delightfully turns rabid, selling her lady parts with wild abandon. Her voice and character were very strong.
The Company of expressive actors worked hard attacking the complex harmonies, however, that was hit or miss, mostly hit. Jesse Bergione, Madeline Cuckow, Heather Gosnell, Avery Bounds, Ryan Roark, Tom Emerick, Becky Grano, Nick Alder, and Emma Weihe worked the space with boundless energy and created many memorable pictures.
Director Claudia Lillibridge assembled a fearless group of actors. The staging was very good within the space, and the asylum was a nice touch. Lillibridge definitely has her casting chops in the right place. The pace of the show needed to move more at a clip. The 20 minute intermission didn’t help the momentum. All the characters are in the right place, mentally and mostly vocally, but being dramatic doesn’t necessarily mean being slow. Music Director John Krol supplied a fine orchestra and I was pleasantly surprised at their sound. Speaking of sound, I wish the theatre was equipped to have music pumped throughout, but I should make a capital campaign to help out on that one.
Stage Manager Nate Benson, and Assistant Stage Manager Jeziel Chavez called a great show. The Stage Crew was very impressive in number and in swift scene changes. There are not that many theatres in the area that can boast a crew of that size. Scenic Designer Wes Shofner created a great look, and the chair did its dastardly duty well. Cory Molnar provided solid morbid lighting, as usual, ha, not usual morbid, I mean his consistent terrific work. Costume Designers Marianne Gingras and Marianne Paul created very good period pieces.
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$11-$16 Reserved Seating
Aurora Community Theatre
115 E. Pioneer Trail
Aurora, OH 44202