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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Olney's 'Sweeney Todd' is a thriller chiller and (update) prices, slashed!

"Darling!  I have a grand idea!" Mrs. Lovett (E. Faye Butler) sings her brainstorm to Sweeney Todd (David Benoit) at Olney Theatre Center. Photo: Stan Barouh

From the moment the blood starts trickling down the red curtain, flowing from the title Sweeney Todd, you know you're in for a spine-tingling, delicious treat, different from the happy, sunny shows you often see on stage, and you shall not be disappointed at the Olney Theatre this fortnight. 

I loved, loved, loved Sweeney Todd! But then, the macabre has always been an attraction for me.
"Watch that razor, laddie" Judge Turpin  (Thomas Adrian Simpson) tells Sweeney Todd  (David Benoit) in Olney Theatre Center's production. Photo: Stan Barouh

Readers, the Olney has done it again:  With lights, camera, and action, the legendary tale of Sweeney Todd, the butcher barber of Fleet Street, unfolds in music before you to devour and admire.  

For theatre fans, Sweeney Todd is must-see.

David Benoit is Sweeney, who, I am certain, will earn a Helen Hayes nomination.  He's strong, he's passionate, and he's consumed by revenge on the conceited, the arrogant Judge Turpin (Thomas Adrian Simpson), whom you grow to detest for the evil the judge has wrought: sending Sweeney to prison for a crime Sweeney didn't commit,  brutalizing Sweeney's wife and then becoming the guardian of the couple's young daughter, Johanna (Gracie Jones), whom, as years pass, Judge Turpin, has grown to admire and desire to become his own wife.

Sweeney will have none of it!  And returns to London from prison determined to right his wrongs. 

The tone of the show descends, like a roller coaster running down a  mountain while gathering momentum and more energy and sinking faster and faster before it hits rock bottom, ending in a pile of destruction.

The star of the Olney's Mary Poppins, Patricia Hurley, is back for Sweeney, this time as little more than a startling pile of rags upon the floor, a role she performs with her usual dexterity and mastery.  

The voices are strong and powerful, none finer than that of Anthony (Jobari Parker-Namdar) who is Johanna's boyfriend.

Mrs. Lovett (E. Faye Butler) is the funny, vivacious and buxom wannabe girlfriend of Sweeney whose eyes almost pop out of her  haid when she dreams up a special concoction for treats for her home menu. (Helen Hayes Nomination:  Best Supporting Actress.)

I am convinced Sweeney's lighting by Colin K. Bills will earn Bills a Helen Hayes nomination.

The set by Milagros Ponce de Leon beautifully transitions from a dark and shadowy gallows, a prison, and insane asylum in tandem roles on the darkened stage which never relinquishes its underground atmosphere of a mole's hole.

A brighter day for Sweeney Todd?  There is none.

Music by the unseen and much appreciated 12-piece orchestra under the direction of Christopher Youstra with Doug Lawler conducting is spot-on, per custom.

Jason Loewith, Olney's artistic director, directs with masterful strokes, putting all the talents of his fine cast on display. 

Seth Gilbert's costumes are fitting, dark, and brown with barely a trace of color in keeping with London's underground tomblike environment.  

The play shows the power of revenge and its consequences.  If you want to see a different revenge ending, try The Salesman, an Iranian film nominated for this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, however lacking in Sweeney's passion and force, power and intensity (a little too bland for some of us).

Sweeney is so horrible it is bound to be based on (partial) truth because, as Mark Twain wrote: "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." 

Wikipedia says Sweeney Todd comes from legend and none other than Charles Dickens and his Pickwick Papers  (be careful of  kitten pies), which was followed ten years later, in 1846 by a serial (different author) about the gristly tale. 

Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 and is it any wonder after seeing this marvelous presentation that it captured eight Tony Awards?

Sweeney Todd  bears a resemblance to another chapter in the annals of debauchery, namely Eating Raoul , a film distributed in 1982, sure to delight black comedy lovers and highly recommended.

Sweeney is not a show for children under age 12 but certain to make an impression on those who are older and possibly instill in them a lifelong love of theatre like a high school presentation of Bye, Bye, Birdie did for me in the ninth grade.  (Which seems so tame for today's high schoolers.  Still, lots of fun!)

Sweeney Todd is a story to be enjoyed by all who are hungry for a little more to taste than plain and happy Broadway tales.

Bon appetit! 

Other cast members are Michael J. Mainwaring, Frank Viveros, Rachel Zampelli,Kenneth Derby, Jade Jones, Benjamin Lurye, Quynh-My Luu, Alan Naylor, Adam Strube, Janine Sunday, Joseph Torello, Melissa Victor, and Laura Whittenberger.

And crew: Tommy Rapley, choreographer; Zach Campion, dialect coach; John Keith Hall, production stage manager; Casey Kaleba, fight director; Matt Rowe, sound; Debbie Ellinghaus, managing director; Zachary Borovay, projection director; Dennis Blackledge, director of production, and Anne Nesmith, wigs and hair.

What:  Sweeney Todd:  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

When:  Wednesday through Sunday eves at 8 p.m. with a Wednesday matinee at 2 p.m., Feb. 22,  and weekend matinees at 2 p.m. with the last show at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5, 2017


Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, 
Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets begin at $38 with discounts for seniors, groups, military, and studentsUpdate:  Prices cut in half!

Select Performances of Sweeney Todd

Get 50% off Adult tickets to these performances of Sweeney Todd:
Wednesday, March 1 at 8:00 pm
Thursday, March 2 at 8:00 pm
Friday, March 3 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, March 4 at 2:00 pm
Saturday, March 4 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, March 5 at 2:00 pm
To redeem, visit, select ADULT ticket type and enter the code ST50 or call the Box Office at 301.924.3400 and mention the code. Valid only for select Sweeney Todd performances. Subject to availability. Not to be combined with any other offers. Not valid on previously purchased tickets. All sales final. This offer expires at 12:00pm on March 5, 2017.

Duration:  Two hours, 45 minutes with one intermission 

Refreshments:  Available and may be taken to seats

Parking:  Free and plentiful on-site

For more information and tickets: 301-924-3400 for the box office or 301-924-4485



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