Stunning set, performances make for bloody fun in Monticello's 'Sweeney Todd' | Review

The opera house serves up a bloody good time!

In a central London shop, lives a barber named Sweeney Todd, said to give the closest shave in England. Strangely, those who enter are often not seen again, and his neighbor’s meat pie shop has never been busier…

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is a musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler that premiered in 1979 to great acclaim, winning the Tony award for best musical. Sweeney himself originated as the villain in 1846 in a series of Penny Dreadfuls titled "The String of Pearls."

Monticello Opera House: Tallahassee actor slices into bucket list role with Sweeney Todd

Opening night of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at the Monticello Opera House. The show runs through June 2, 2024.
Opening night of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at the Monticello Opera House. The show runs through June 2, 2024.

The subsequent novel adaptation and musical that followed gave Sweeney a more sympathetic character arc; he was a barber named Benjamin Barker who was transported to Botany Bay for life by the corrupt Judge Turpin who lusted after his wife and claimed his young daughter, Joanna, as his ward.

Barker returns years later with his heart set on revenge, and his opportunistic neighbor, Mrs. Lovett, is more than happy to oblige in his quest. (Though she has more romantic and business goals in mind.)

The Victorian era in London was one of great societal and cultural change; the Industrial Revolution was transforming every area of British life. "Sweeney Todd" with its cannibalistic plot was a commentary on the dehumanization of the populace in favor of machines.

The Monticello Opera House production reflects this tense and darkening mood. The lush velour red curtains that typically adorn the windows have been stripped away and replaced by rough ply board. There are flickering lamps surrounding the house, which are lit by an ensemble member dressed as a lamplighter to start the show.

Cast members mill about onstage preshow, allowing us a peek at their world. As the organ blasts out the eerie notes of the opening, a train whistle sounds as the blinding light of a locomotive screams downstage, and Sweeney is revealed from his shroud. It is a hair raising, exciting and powerful opening.

Director Joel Daavid has also served as Set and Lighting Designer. His stunning set features a curved and distorted London skyline that bends across the mid stage, hanging ominously over the proceedings. Other elements also crafted in a similarly disjointed style are brought on and off to create the various scenes.

A standout feature was the bakehouse that plays an important role in the plot, and worked exceedingly convincingly. The moody and textured lighting all added to the foreboding, oppressive and seething London that Daavid has created.

Costumes, designed by Machelle Thompson, complimented the set beautifully. At times, ensemble members appear to be part of the fabric of the set itself. One can never think of "Sweeney Todd" without thinking of blood, and this production provides lots of it; and convincingly, too.

Ken Lambert as Sweeney Todd in the Monticello Opera House production of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," running through June 2, 2024.
Ken Lambert as Sweeney Todd in the Monticello Opera House production of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," running through June 2, 2024.

Ken Lambert in the titular role gives us a Sweeney with a glint in his eye that matches his shiny razor. He commands the stage at all times, and has a good time doing it. His accomplice Mrs. Lovett, Jennifer Holliday, has a soaring voice and gives the character an added softness, particularly when interacting with the child, Tobias.

Aiden Edwards is an entirely believable Toby, his voice has just the right mix of youthfulness and emotion. Nikia Gordon adds her stunning vocals to break our hearts as the beggar woman, Madalyn Stewart is a lovely, fragile and manic Joanna.

Alan Nelson is a world weary and wicked Beadle and Caleb Goodman adds a tense and grasping edge to the lecherous Judge. Jackson Green was a standout for me as the honorable and kind Anthony Hope. Green offered a sincerity that helped to add gravity to the character, and his physicality and vocals were perfection.

At times, this very difficult score did show how tough it is in some ensemble moments. The orchestra, directed by Connor Angus McKenna, were not always entirely in sync with the cast.

Despite these small hiccups, "Sweeney Todd" was a feast for the senses and a bloody good time. You still have one more weekend to get to see the show, and tickets are certain to go quickly.

Naomi Rose-Mock is a Tallahassee voice actor, acting/musical theatre coach and theatre director.

If you go

What: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

When: Continues May 31-June 2; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.

Where: 185 West Washington St., Monticello

Cost: $27 per ticket; visit monticellooperahouse.org

Contact: 850-997-4242 | Director@MonticelloOperaHouse.org

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Monticello Opera House production captures dark mood of 'Sweeney Todd'