“Shatnerian” is not a mainstay of the critical dramatic lexicon, but it appears exactly four times in the notes I took while watching SMCSU’s student production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It was the robotic gestures and melodramatic, segmented speech patterns of the leading man and some of the chorus that spurred those comments, but next to them in my notepad are “amazing voice”, “spooky”, and “hilarious”.
To those unfamiliar with Sondheim’s masterpiece, the combination of spooky and hilarious may be alarming; to everyone else it’s ideal. Told mostly through song straight out of the horror movie canon, Sweeney Todd follows a wrongfully-convicted barber through his return to London, his relationship with an amoral pie-maker, and his eventual pledge to seek revenge on a corrupt judge and anyone else who might get in his way. This show is driven by the crisp, haunting, voice of star Peter Mackechnie (Hairspray, Rocky Horror Picture Show) and the impeccable comedic timing of Victoria McEwan (Hairspray), who handle the show’s demanding rhythm and dense plot with apparent ease.
In such a tightly-wound piece, however, even the slightest imperfection pops out: a chorus that never starts or stops singing at the same time, a gunshot that’s played seconds before the trigger is pulled, a leading lady with a beautiful singing voice and hilarious delivery but rarely both at once. Missed cues and forgotten lines hit the ear harder than any correct note or clever pun.
But it is precisely because I am able to nit-pick so many foibles and slip-ups that the Sweeney Todd’s consummate excellence is clear. There were no terrible performers; no glaring accommodations in plot or score. Except possibly for director Michael Wisniowski’s decision to replace sudden, intense murders with scenes of ambling symbolism, the show pulled every heart string and pushed every laugh. In all cases, the good outweighed the bad, the humour surpassed the foibles, and the delivery, both musical and dramatic, made SMCSU’s production of Sweeney Todd an evening of enjoyable theatre.
Sweeney Todd runs at Hart House Theatre for five performances:
Friday November 30th, 8:00PM
Saturday December 1st, 8:00PM
Friday December 7th, 8:00PM
Saturday December 8th, 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Audiences are warned of mature content and violence.