Reprinted from the Indpendent Weekly

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Hoof ‘n’ Horns @ Duke University
Through Nov. 2

Just in time for Halloween comes Duke’s Department of Theatre Studies and Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s production of perhaps the most Goth musical ever, Stephen Sondheim’s classic Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Those who felt underserved by the Tim Burton/ Johnny Depp film adaptation last year (they cut the prologue!) will be thoroughly entertained by this version, which emphasizes the dark comedy of Sondheim’s adaptation.

Sweeney Todd is the tale of the barber exiled to prison by a lecherous judge in love with his wife, who returns home to a soot-choked London for vengeance. When he’s not after the judge or his daughter, Johanna (Claire Florian), he strikes up a relationship with Mrs. Lovett, whose meat pies he improves through a special ingredient.

It’s odd that a play involving rampant bloodletting and perverse relationships has become a cornerstone of modern musical theater, but this production has an almost classical feel, stripping down much of the fog effects and layered makeup from recent productions to put the emphasis on the performers. Jayme Mellema’s scene design combines crooked sets with rear-projection to create the sense of a London gone askew, while director John Clum, in his last directorial effort at Duke, does an excellent job of handling the complex, fast-paced production.

This show alternates the major roles; Scott Cruikshank played the role of Todd on the night I attended, and reprises the role on Nov. 1. Todd is played by Nate Jones during the other performances, while Cruikshank takes over as Judge Turpin from Michael Bergen. Itohan Aghayere played Mrs. Lovett on the night I attended; she alternates with Becky Swern. Cruikshank and Aghayere did fine the night I saw them, though Cruikshank’s deep voice makes him a good choice for the lecherous Turpin, and I’m curious to see him in that role. Among the ensemble, a standout is Kousha Navidar as the ludicrous huckster Pirelli; his exuberance in the role gives his scenes a particular comic energy.

Pun intended, you should definitely attend the tale of Sweeney Todd—especially on Halloween, when there’s a special “Come in Costume” performance. —Zack Smith