This is a review of Sweeney by a friend of mine, Ashley Herman, who is, amongst other things, a West End producer.
“I and my friends came to see your Sweeney Todd and I have to say that I was very, very, impressed. Well done Fortune! And well done, your company WAOS.
I have seen many professional productions, including the original Hal Prince one in New York and I think in many ways your production equals and at times betters them. You clearly thought deeply about it, you knew what you wanted and set out to achieve that and succeeded. To pull off such a wonderful show with such a limited budget means you had to install self-belief and energy in everyone involved.
I loved your opening. It was unique and far better than any I have ever seen. It was scary and gripping and completely surprising when Todd appeared, as if by magic, above us all, dominating and powerful. We really knew we were in for a heck of a roller-coaster ride.
It was brave adding to the show but your additions worked. Firstly, a ‘dumb show’ to illustrate the first part of Todd’s story during “Barber and His Wife” is obvious really but has never been done. The script calls for one to illustrate the second part of his story during “Poor Thing” but, strangely, not the first. It was simple but told the story well as did your handling of the second dumb show. Seeing Barker being dragged across stage carrying his ball and chain and handed over to a marine was a master-stroke. It explained everything perfectly and the feeling you got watching that and seeing, at the same time, the returned Barker, bald, hard and agonised after 15 years of imprisonment was very telling.
Todd was simply supreme, better than Terfel in my opinion, and when he cut his hand on “rubies” I was just aghast at the boldness and rightness of it. It showed us he was a tormented soul, as much as the final “my right arm is complete again”.
With additions, there must be cuts as this show is so long that your theatre would not have allowed you to perform it in its complete form but your cuts were invisible. I know the show and I didn’t see any of them other than the songs seemed to be just the right length each time. Merging Contest 1 and 2 together to bring out the best of both without us having to sit through them both was brilliant. I bet your MD cursed you but it made the whole Pirelli experience perfect. And wasn’t he good, and Toby – again perfect, bold casting.
The acting and singing was excellent, as in all your productions. You always choose your casts well and they always seem to stretch themselves for you. Todd and Lovett were perfect and brilliant as were all the principals – I enjoyed the Judge and the Beadle and the sad, doomed lovers – and the chorus scary and disgusting, as they were supposed to be. I loved how individual they all were in both their appearance and behaviour. They really did look like the occupants of filthy Fleet Street of the time rather than a group of chorus players. Well done to all of them.
You always bravely take your shows to a level others fear to tread and they are better for it – this time, the filth, the fog, the blood, actually cutting off Johanna’s hair, the barber’s chair and the realistic sounds effects. I always know I will get a full-on experience with one of your shows.
Your stylish direction always shows flair in every department and the blocking, lighting, sound, costumes, set and props were excellent in their own right. I love the attention to the lighting, creating an atmospheric setting for each scene, gradually becoming more frenetic as the story accelerates, finally ending in some splendid set pieces such as the city actually being on fire, the dingy, frightening cellar and the stark images thereafter. And you kept the final door bang, good man.
When I saw the band so close and visible in the auditorium, I assumed that the music would be too loud and the dialogue drowned out, as happens so often, but the judicious placement of a speaker directly over the orchestra made all the dialogue and effects clear and clean. Very good. And the band were excellent too.
Your MD did splendid work with both the cast and the band and produced a very nice sound throughout with, arguably, one of the most difficult pieces of musical theatre.
So, well done Fortune for a great show. You’ve done it again, old chap!”