Local WA Company Fresh Bred Productions launched their second musical for the year with Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s classic masterpiece, Sweeney Todd. Directed once again by Craig Griffen and including many of the cast members from their previous show, Spring Awakening, audiences can expect the same quality from this new offering.
The vocal performances were by far, the highlight of this production. The cast were superb and could have easily been poached from Broadway or the West End. There are an excessive amount of time signature changes, syncopated rhythms and somewhat counter intuitive entrances and intervals that make this a horribly difficult score to learn, but they made it look quite effortless. This can likely be attributed to fierce commitment in rehearsal, practice and persistence by both the singers and the musical direction team.
Ian Cross, seasoned veteran of the MT stage, in the title role showed incredible skill and discipline, despite the gruelling rehearsal schedule leading up to this show, to sing through with passion and sensitivity.
His mischievous mistress, Mrs Lovett was played by Elethea Sartorelli who belted out a notoriously difficult repertoire with professional precision. Sartorelli’s Lovett was one of the most likeable characters in the show. Despite the era, she was a strong, independent, goal-oriented woman, opportunistic but not cruel and, at times warm and maternal.
Our romantic hero was Michael MacCuish, who played Anthony, the young sailor and travelling companion of Sweeney Todd who falls in love with Johanna (Madeline Crofts) when he first sees her singing at her window in old London town. Both Crofts and MacCuish delivered sublime vocal performances and also managed to portray the naïve and at times maniacal frenzy of budding romance.
Kimberley Harris (Beggar Woman), Cal Silberstein (Adolfo Pirelli) and Daniel Kirkby (Beadle Bamford) filled out the minor roles with commendable performances. Pete Martis was well cast as Tobias Ragg and his performance was endearing. Simon Brett was a bit of a sexy choice for old Judge Turpin, because it made his affections for his young ward, Johanna seem slightly less disgusting. Nevertheless, his delightful bass voice and formidable tone asserted his slimy superiority over all others.
The nine piece orchestra, under the baton of Musical Director Joshua James Webb handled the difficult score with beautiful execution. I’m going to mention the name of each person in the Ensemble because they pulled off some diabolically tight harmonies and spectacular range while showing respect and attention to dynamics and blending. So, bouquets go to Thomas Owen, Stee Andrews, Rebecca Cole, Jordan Dunne, Olivia Everett, Jackson Griggs, Crystal Haig, Niamh Nichols, Emily Semple, Shannon Whyte, Lauren Kingham and Sam Widenbar.
This is a long musical and although there were parts that were surprising and exciting, there were also sections that dragged and I wonder if that was due to the simplicity of the set and staging. The most engaging moments were achieved choreographically. The first moment Sweeney appeared was seemingly out of nowhere and made me want to burst into spontaneous applause.
I think that the choice of performance space, Joy Shepherd Performing Arts Centre, at St Hilda’s School in Mosman Park was a little ambitious for a Pro-Am production. On opening night, the audience was only dappled through the first dozen rows of the (I’m guessing) 500 seat venue. This could perhaps be attributed to the ticket prices being at the high end for independent musical theatre in WA.
That wasn’t the only issue with the space. After the audience returned from interval, the rear of the auditorium was decidedly more populated than it was before, and that can be attributed to the music being too loud at the front. It’s a more enjoyable experience, aurally from about half way back, I was fine in Row K. Besides some trouble with the microphones early on, there were no other issues with the sound.
With a very short season, just five performances, you only have 3 more chances to catch the show. There are a few important things to note though. Being in a school venue, there’s no liquor licence, so if you fancy a glass of wine at interval, curb your expectations. Also, parking is on the oval off Glyde St in Mosman Park.
Fresh Bred Productionspresents
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler
Director Craig Griffen
Venue: Joy Shepherd Performing Arts Centre, WA
Dates: 31 Oct – 7 Nov, 2015