Great Lakes Theater presents “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Photo Credit: TRG Reality

Great Lakes Theater invites you to attend the tale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Hmmm… a rather peculiar name for a Broadway musical… and a rather peculiar storyline, too, for that matter. But do not let the name or the plot fool you, as Sweeney Todd is, perhaps, the greatest musical ever written for the Broadway stage, and in my opinion, Stephen Sondheim’s very best. And now the demon barber of Fleet Street has come to East 14th Street to the stage of the gorgeous Hanna Theatre in Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare.

Billed as a “musical thriller” and based upon an English legend, Sweeney Todd tells the story of a broken man with revenge on his mind when he returns to 19th century London, following 15 years of exile in Australia. While on his voyage home, Todd meets young Anthony Hope (the true hero of the show), who will later become his daughter’s suitor. And upon his return, he takes a room from meat pie maker Mrs. Lovett, a face from his past. As he learns the sordid details surrounding the fates of his wife and daughter, at the hands of the evil Judge Turpin, he slowly spirals out of control. As Benjamin Barker, Todd was a barber, so he returns to his craft and sets up shop above Mrs. Lovett’s meat pie shop where the two create the most diabolical plan for profit and revenge. Do you see where this is going?

Tom Ford plays the mad and diabolical Sweeney Todd with deep emotion and somewhat comical lunacy. But the always delightful, and mesmerizing, Sara Bruner steals the show as his “other half,” the devious and strangely sexy Mrs. Lovett… a role first created by the legendary Angela Lansbury, who won a Tony Award, among others, for her performance in the original 1979 Broadway production. Is there anything that Ms. Bruner cannot do? Zach Adkins is an adorably handsome Anthony Hope, with a gentle and passionate voice, most evident in the love ballad “Johanna” and the duet “Kiss Me.” And the rest of the cast exhibits the height of professionalism, with strong voices and a powerful stage presence, as they tell the tale with a demonic and sinister touch. (On a side note, Sweeney Todd is a most appropriate show for the season, as we approach Halloween.)

Great Lakes’ production is directed by Cleveland’s very own Victoria Bussert, a Stephen Sondheim expert and nationally known director of Sondheim’s oeuvre… if you have not seen Ms. Bussert’s work; you do not know what you have been missing… and you are in for a very special treat, indeed! The show’s staging is among the very best that I have seen yet from Great Lakes Theater. The set is compact, yet revealing, and the costumes are absolutely, and unbelievably, beautiful.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was the recipient of eight 1979 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It also won the 1979 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and the 2006 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical. And it has won the Olivier Award, in London’s West End, three times: Once for Best New Musical (1980) and twice for Best Musical Revival (1994 and 2013). But awards and honors aside, Sweeney Todd is just a damn good show: Clever, witty, and extremely well-conceived. Stephen Sondheim, along with Hugh Wheeler (the librettist), have taken such wicked and gory material and have put it to some of the most ingenious and beautiful music ever written for the Broadway stage, especially, the somewhat ironic “Pretty Women” and the extremely touching, and even tear-jerking, “Not While I’m Around.”

Sondheim and his work have been honored many times, with way too many awards to mention. But by the numbers, he has won eight Tony Awards, seven Drama Desk Awards, six Olivier Awards, and eight Grammy Awards. And if those are not enough, Mr. Sondheim has won an Academy Award for Best Original Song (for “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” from Dick Tracy) (1990) and the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Sunday in the Park with George (1985). Sunday in the Park with George is one of only eight musicals to win the Pulitzer since its inception in 1917. And it is an honor well deserved.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street remains one of Sondheim’s most performed and most popular shows, and it contains his strongest and most innovative score. And after seeing Great Lakes Theater’s spectacular production, you will understand why. It is a true masterpiece, in every sense of the word, of modern Broadway theatre. And it is a show that will have you at the very edge of your seat while, in the very same breath, you marvel at the eloquence and great depth of the beautiful score. Even if you have seen the excellent 2007 Tim Burton film adaptation, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, you have to see this show as it was originally intended. Sweeney Todd will only play through November 2, and tickets are selling quickly, so be sure to secure your seats now, and attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Great Lakes Theater’s 2013-2014 Season has begun with William Shakespeare’s Richard III (September 27 – November 3) in repertory with Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (October 4 – November 2). The 25th anniversary production of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic A Christmas Carol will follow (November 30 – December 22). In 2014, Great Lakes Theater will offer Ira Levin’s Deathtrap (February 21 – March 16), and Shakespeare’s As You Like It (April 4-19) will close the season.

Now in its 52nd year, Great Lakes Theater continues to offer some of the highest quality theater in the nation. For more information about Great Lakes Theater, Sweeney Todd, or the 2013-2014 Season, please visit Great Lakes’ website at

- Christopher S. Musselman

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