Sweeney Todd

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WAOS’s production of SWEENEY TODD which I directed has just been given TWO – yes, count them – two NODA Awards!

The first one was, as my other two for THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and TITANIC THE MUSICAL, the Award for Excellence in the region.

The other was the Technical Award for the whole South East of England!

Goodness me!

I congratulate EVERYONE involved in the show in any capacity.

These were group awards for us all. 🙂

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!”

WAOS ‘SWEENEY TODD’ – NOVEMBER 2015

‘Sweeney Todd’ had only short runs in both New York and London, 557 and 157 performances respectively, despite the fact that it is considered to be one of Sondheim’s most melodic and verbally acute scores. It draws on different styles of musical composition including English ballads, Victorian ditties and folk music, and the composer amused himself by using a William Walton-like cadence whenever the word ‘London’ was set.

You may remember that I’m not a great Sondheim fan, although I do of course appreciate that the words and music are incredibly clever, but for the uninitiated they make for uncomfortable listening. However I was pleased to see that the theatre was fairly full on Friday evening and that the audience were appreciative of the piece.

As Lee says in his message, the score is demanding and complex and this alone presents an enormous challenge to the vocalists. The staging is tricky too, but the set served all purposes and the different levels created the drop necessary in order that the customers destined to be made into pies could fall down the chute. The simple addition of a balustrade stage right created the house/window effect on that level, and the props and furniture were suitable for the period, except for the shiny stainless steel bowl as mentioned by Chris*.

The opening number was powerfully sung, very threatening and set the scene for the darkness that is the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street. It was a visual feast with the cast representing a wonderfully varied lot of characters. The street costumes looked authentic, not just adapted to look scruffy, and the clothes worn by Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford were in contrast quite splendid.

Had I not known better I would not have recognised Lee and what a superb job he did with the role of Sweeney Todd. His singing was faultless, and in the role of the man who returns to England after being sent off to Australia 15 years earlier, cheated of the life he should have had, we witnessed how his intention to avenge the wrong clearly grew into an overriding obsession as the story progressed.

Jenny was excellent as Mrs. Lovett. Her singing and acting couldn’t be faulted but she looked far too clean and wholesome! She was the only woman on stage, apart from the upper class ones, who appeared spotlessly clean*. She needed aging somewhat too, and as the make up was extremely good for all the other characters, quite the best I’ve seen in 12 years of reviewing shows, I wonder how Jenny escaped without a blemish.

As the young ward Johanna, Becky Bond sang and acted the part with sincerity and charm.
Anthony Hope is the young man who hopes to win Johanna’s affections and Lewis Padgett played him convincingly. His vocal ability and acting were commendable.

The role of Judge Turpin, a most unpleasant and corrupt man, is comparable to that of Sweeney Todd in that he is central to the plot and both are incredibly complex characters. Mark was impressive in the role and the flagellation scene was a very powerful one. His stature added to his threatening presence.
His sidekick Beadle Bamford who does his master’s bidding so willingly, was played effectively by David Methven. His acting was good but occasionally his voice projection eased off a little.

The asylum scene was really harrowing and a terrible reflection of what happened to the poor people who were committed to them at that time. It was an unsettling scene.

In complete contrast and bringing some lightness to this, on the whole very dark piece, was Adolfo Pirelli, and Graham Kirby-Smith played him brilliantly. His singing was good and he was the epitome of an Italian travelling salesman of the era (except that he wasn’t!) His accent was very good and he brought out the comedy in the role. St Dunstan’s Market Place where we first saw him was bursting with activity and visually uplifting. The props were very good.

Melanie Morrisey gave a first class performance as Tobias Ragg and we saw the change in her character as she grew to feel ‘at home’ in her new job at the Sweeney/Lovett enterprise.

What a twist in the plot when the Beggar Woman turns out to be Lucie! Hannah Kitchener was totally believable in the part. Her whole demeanour depicted the character of a bent and course old street beggar. She gave a most accomplished performance.

The other remaining named roles supported the principals well, and the chorus members were terrific. Each and every one contributed greatly to this memorable production.

Sound was consistent and sound effects were good – the flapping of birds wings and the roar of the flames particularly – and the lighting added to the atmosphere tremendously.

James Fortune presented a well thought out and directed musical and didn’t clutter the stage with furniture or props but made the two tier set work for all locations.

Ian Peters and his musicians were supportive and not overpowering and the challenging musical score was in expert hands.

Your programme has a very striking cover, the contents are interesting to read and it is nicely set out. I’m sure you will want to enter it into the programme/poster competition.

Thank you so much for inviting me to see ‘Sweeney Todd’ and for your usual hospitality on theevening. I enjoyed as I always do coming up onto the stage afterwards to meet the cast.

Congratulations to everyone involved on staging an exceptionally good show.

E. Gloria Smith

N.O.D.A South East Regional Representative – District 12

  • Shiny iron and steel bowls were definitely around in 1846 and Mrs Lovett would have been the only female in Fleet Street who would have washed regularly. Ah well. 🙂 (James Fortune)

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This Monday (16th Novemnber 2015) the Launch Night for HMS Pinafore will take place at:

Good Shepherd Hall
Station Approach
Tadworth
Surrey
KT20 5AH

Even if you hate G&S, PLEASE come to the Launch this Monday. It will be a typical James party including a movie, special guests and a magic show by two hilarious up-and-coming chaps who I love.

There will be a full introduction to my hilarious version, a short film of highlights from the previous performance of this show, special guests, a fun magic show by two hilarious up-and-coming chaps who I love and all the usual razzamatazz that goes to make up and james Fortune show launch. Worth coming out for, I promise you. If nothing else, there will be lovely food and drink. Come along and enjoy the fun. See you there? Pretty please?

All my love James xx

I am delighted to be able to announce that I will be directing

SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

for the WAOS.

The Launch Night will be held on Monday 18th May at 7:45pm, the auditions on Sunday 31st May at 1pm and the Show Week is from Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th November 2015 at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre in Woking.

Rehearsals are held in Old Woking Community Centre, Sundridge Road, Woking, Surrey GU22 9AT

I hope some of you will be able to attend these events. 🙂

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