Utah Repertory Theater’s Sweeney Todd is a bloody good time

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Halloween may be behind us, but for those of you who want to keep the spooky season going, the blood-chilling production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts is sure to thrill and delight. Produced in partnership with the Utah Repertory Theater Company, this haunting, heartbreaking show will leave you as breathless as Sweeney Todd’s victims.

The legend of the vengeful barber Sweeney Todd originated in Britain as an oral myth, passed down like a campfire story. In the 1970’s, playwright Christopher Bond created a backstory that imagined a terrible tale of bloodlust and revenge for the titular character.

As I stepped into the Scott and Karen Smith Theater, I made my way through a haze of fog and into turn-of-the-century industrialized London. The massive set, designed by Josh Steadman, loomed over the stage. What appeared to be basic building facades were more than they seemed; the central fixture spun to reveal the inside of Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop and Sweeney Todd’s barber shop. 

Two towers on either end of the stage showcased the ensemble members as factory workers, once lit from within. These workers slaved away at their pantomimed tasks with never-ending mechanical movements. This was to emphasize the theme of the “dehumanization of the individual,” according to director Tim Threlfalls. Though they often came out to interact directly with the story, the ensemble always ended up back in their cubicles.

Jeff McCarthy, taking over for the previously-announced Will Swenson with two weeks’ notice, stepped into the role of the Demon Barber with ease — this production marks his third time in the role. All of the pain and anger typical of the character were present, but they seemed to simmer just under the surface, making the bombastic moments stand out even more. McCarthy clearly has a love for this role, and he was a force to watch on stage.

Jeff McCarthy stars as the vengeful barber Sweeney Todd. (Jay Drowns / UVU Marketing)

Amanda Crabb, a professor at UVU, went on as Mrs. Lovett in place of Jacquelyne Jones on the night of Oct. 28. Despite a few stumbles in the wordy and musically dexterous number “Worst Pies in London,” Crabb performed gracefully. The discord between the bubbly warmth she lent to the part and her character’s unsavory actions made for a compelling performance of one of musical theater’s more complex female roles. She’ll be worth seeing in her second performance on Nov. 2. 

The young ingenues, Anthony and Johanna, were played by Jadon Webster and Ellora Lattin, respectively. Webster’s golden voice and wide-eyed wistfulness was the stuff of romantic lead dreams, and Lattin played Johanna with a skittishness that gave depth to the trapped young girl. She supplied nuance in a role that could easily veer into simply sweet and one-dimensional. 

Ellora Lattin as Johanna, a young girl desperate for an escape from her “father’s” clutches. (Jay Drowns / UVU Marketing)

Sweeney Todd is hardly known for big dance numbers. However, the subtle and precise choreography by Becky Wright Phillips was executed flawlessly. The gorgeous steampunk-inspired costumes, courtesy of Nancy Cannon, gave the cast an appropriately grungy and worn feel from their aviator goggles to their lace-up boots.

Stephen Sondheim’s score flows between haunting and beautifully lush, and was brought to life expertly by music director Anne Puzey and conductor Jeanne McGuire. Live music is much less common in theater as of recently, so hearing all of the depth and intricacy of an orchestra was a treat for the ears.

Whether you’ve not yet heard the tale of Sweeney Todd or have seen the show a dozen times, this production is fresh and exhilarating enough to make the trip to UVU in order to witness it for yourself worth every minute.

Utah Repertory Theater Company’s and the Noorda’s co-production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” plays at Noorda Center for the Performing Arts until Nov. 9. Visit UVU’s ticketing website for showtimes and ticket information.