Wednesday, 2 March 2016

"Sweeney Todd" 
West Bridgford Operatic Society
Nottingham Arts Theatre

Celebrating West Bridgford Operatic Society (WBOS) 70th year in great style with one of Stephen Sondheim's darkest of musicals; this is one musical this week you should not miss. 

Set in 19th century England, this supply and demand musical details the return of barber Sweeney Todd, previously known as Benjamin Barker, to London after 15 years of exile, He's back to take revenge on the corrupt Judge Turpin who banished him, and by conspiring with a local baker, Mrs. Lovett, who is in desperate need of fresh meat for her pies, he wreaks his bloody revenge, but not without some heartache for Todd along the way.

Meng Khaw, as Todd, has an air of menace about him from the minute he strides on stage, and that menace stays with him right to the grisly end. He's angry and his tunnel vision of getting his revenge on Turpin and Beadle Bamford is quite frightening. His distorted features often staring out to some unseen victim really makes you feel on edge. Meng has a wonderful, rich singing voice with great power, and that's one thing that runs through the WBOS; their consistency of talent and powerful, operatic voices.

Sam Thorne is Mrs Lovett and, paired with Todd , they make a formidable pair, as dangerous as Bonnie & Clyde but with some lovely comical segments, especially in the song "A Little Priest" where they are comparing the tastes of the pies with various professionals as the fillings. Again a wonderful voice.

The young sailor, Anthony, who befriends Todd at the start and falls in love with Johanna, who is really Todd's daughter, is played by Drew Dennis. his voice has got stronger since the last time I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him on stage and is showcased on the song to his love "Johanna". A lovely clear, strong timbre to his voice which is very pleasant to listen to and just right for musical theatre.

Johanna, played by Lauren Gill, has an amazing strong operatic voice and whether in her solo number or complementing Drew's voice when duetting with Anthony, Lauren has been perfectly cast in this vocally challenging role.

Stephen Godward is no stranger to the role of Judge Turpin as he has played the role eight times before. Again perfect casting and his solo of "Johanna/Mea Culpa" will send shivers down your spine. Great voice control, and a great version of "Pretty Women" with Meng.

Toby, who has Pirelli as his master is played by Curtis Taylor-Tipton. Curtis is another one who has a strong voice, especially with those big notes. You can really feel the force of the power of his vocals.

Pirelli, the comedy character of the musical is also quite the deceitful one as his role switches from Italian barber to Irish blackmailer. This dual nationality is pulled off with a wonderful comedic element by Dan Armstrong, but what a voice  Dan owns. Would love to see Dan and co perform serious opera.

The beggar woman is a different role for Julie Fowler, as she has played Johanna in the past. Even though the role is quite a flirty fun role, Julie also shows the sad, desperate and lonely side of the woman, and i won't spoil it for anyone who doesn't know the story, but she has a secret that is revealed at the end, but only after her death.

Paul McPherson is Beadle Bamford, again a pleasure to watch.

Technically, this is quite a difficult show, mainly due to the disposal of the bodies and the chair but all went very smoothly. The effect of the throat splitting was suitably gory with blood spurting, not trickling and I especially loved the popping sound when Turpin's throat was slit followed by a mini fountain of red. if you like grisly gore then this is the production to watch.

A tight ensemble who produced a wall of sound when all singing together. Directed by Morven Harrison, this was very tight and fast moving with great light and shade and characterization from the actors. Stephen Williams is the musical director and what a crisp sound they produce. At times you almost forget that there is an orchestra there as the sound is like listening to a record. Incredibly pleasant on the hear, plus the mix with the singers was perfect.  This, along with the lighting design by Nick Gale, is the work of the Arts Theatre.

What a set!! This has to be one of the best sets for "Todd" I've seen. Giving the performance area a multi level space which also provided different areas for the pie shop, Todd's barber shop, Turpin's home and the street scenes. all this without having to change any scenery.

This really could be the best performance of "Sweeney Todd" that I've seen, and I've seen a couple to compare it to, and possibly for the fact that the bloody scenes were just that. The audience definitely appreciated this realism. One of my highlights of this year so far I think i can safely say.

"Sweeney Todd" is on at the Nottingham Arts Theatre until Saturday 5 March 2016, and well worth the £14.00 price of the ticket.

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