Sweeney Todd

Hoyt Hilsman Reviews - Theater

While South Coast Repertory is to be commended for reviving the classic Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical, this production is mostly uninspiring. The problem seems primarily to lie with director Kent Nicholson’s lack of faith in the material – he has injected broad comedy where none is needed, amped up the performances unnecessarily, and shifted the tone haphazardly, all to the detriment of the play.

Although a director’s vision is clearly necessary, even when it comes to a highly accomplished Sondheim musical, what appears to be lacking here is a clear director’s vision. The performers are all solid and skilled, but they seem too often to be pulling in opposite directions – particularly the two leads, David St. Louis as Sweeney and Jamey Hood as Mrs. Lovett. St. Louis’s Sweeney is consistently dark and angry, lacking the complexity that is a hallmark of the character, and Hood is overly frenetic, missing much of her vulnerability. When actors miss the mark like that, it is generally because of lack of consistent direction.

Nevertheless, Sondheim’s score is wonderfully served by music director David 0. Not so wonderful are the sets by John Iocovelli, which seem to match the blandness of the production. The ensemble of actors offer solid performances, with some outstanding vocal work given the challenges of the Sondheim score.  St. Louis has a fine and melodious voice, which is only hampered by a fairly one-note acting performance. Hood is also strong vocally, with a shrillness that matches the Sondheim score.

Julianna Hansen is a delightful Joanna, marvelous in the duets with the equally solid Devin Archer as Anthony.  Erica Hanrahan-Ball is excellent as the Beggar Woman, as is Conlan Ledwith as Tobias Ragg. Especially notable are a couple of fine turns by Roland Rusinek as the faux-Italian barber Adolfo Perelli and Nicholas Mangiardo-Cooper as Beadle Bamford.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, through February 16.