Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd at Blank Canvas Has a Double-Edged Razor That Cuts But Also Scrapes

Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

If Gypsy is considered the Mother of all musicals, then Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is sure to be considered one of the Big Daddy's. Just the fact that a theatre attempts to produce this show is a testament to their drive and ambition, and in this case, it's Founder and Artistic Director Patrick Ciamacco who leads the way. Literally.

Originally, the titled musical was a 1973 play by the British Playwright Christopher Bond. In 1979, the acclaimed musical adaptation was brought to life by Stephen Sondheim, who created one of the most glorious Music and Lyrics ever, and the Book was by Hugh Wheeler. The story is about a wrongfully imprisoned barber, Benjamin Barker, who returns to London 15 years after being wrongfully convicted. He has assumed a new name, Sweeney Todd, and is hell-bent on exacting revenge against Judge Turpin, who is responsible for his imprisonment. Further fury is invoked when he learns that the Judge has raped his young wife, and adopted his daughter and is holding her captive. Todd finds himself in business with his former landlady, Mrs. Lovett. Since times are hard, Mrs. Lovett comes up with a blood-curdling scheme to help them both. As the musical unfolds, there are many surprises that await the path of vengeance.

Image: Trinidad Snider (Mrs. Lovett) and Patrick Ciamacco (Sweeney Todd) Photo Credit: Andy Dudik
As Sweeney Todd, Patrick Ciamacco takes on the titular role. It is an outstanding accomplishment to tackle this role, especially when you look through the program, and see that in addition to playing Todd, he also took on the roles of Lighting, Blood, Sound, Barber Chair, Set Designer and Technical Director. And if that isn't enough, helped as Scenic Painter. Oh, and he handles the Box Office and Marketing. Dedication to the nth degree. Ciamacco does a good job of handling the demanding role and does it with a commanding presence. There were a few points where songs were started in the wrong key but quickly corrected. He is a consummate performer and consistently delivers throughout the play. Internalizing his pain, and letting us into his soul through his expressive eyes. The performance dipped from time to time, probably due to exhaustion, but when the intention and energy were fully formed, as in "Epiphany", it was pure magic. And his face waiting for the next "customer" was like watching a slobbering Doberman awaiting the mailman.

Trinidad Snider takes on Mrs. Lovett like a quarterback in the Super Bowl. Using every ounce of her talent and creating a magical interpretation. Her crazy voice inflections, quirky physicality, and deft comedic timing are on full display. Her interaction with Ciamacco is a scream, as both of them represent a demonic Steve and Edie. Her range of emotions is impressive and infectious. Truly a triumphant performance.   

Robert Kowalewski (Anthony) and Meg Martinez (Johanna)   Photo Credit: Andy Dudik
As the blade-crossed lovers, Robert Kowalewski (Anthony) and Meg Martinez (Johanna) completely kick ass. Each is equipped with beautiful voices and complete characterizations. Martinez soars like an operatic phoenix, as in her song "Green Finch and Linnet Bird", serving up beautiful dynamics. Kowalewski brings his seductive high baritone voice into the proceedings and basically impregnates the audience with his rendition of "Johanna". His Anthony was a touch more hyper than expected, but he was probably at sea for a long time, and you know. This dynamic pair absolutely crush the duet "Kiss Me", with incredible diction and timing. 

Kristy Cruz as the Beggar Woman rightfully came across as she was out of her mind. She took a lot of chances in a well-defined insanity. But also, let us in on moments that seemed to create real connections with her past, and her truths, that her tortured mind couldn't process into words. Beautifully done. I must say that the wig supplied almost upstaged her, but luckily Cruz made it work, through sheer talent. In my opinion, she is one of the most underrated performers in our city. She is a triple threat surrounded by a humble energy.
The dynamic Brian Altman serves up The Judge with a Raul Esparza feel that is definitely easy on the eyes. Too bad his character is a dick. Altman brings to life this loveless powerful man who harbors a tortured soul. His desperation for Johanna stays with him throughout the play and is palatable. His creepy keyhole voyeur scene will certainly raise the threat level a couple of colors. John Webb as The Beadle is a hot mess. Basically running around with the Judge with a sidekick appeal, ready to do the bidding. Armed with a strong voice, he offers some great comic relief in the parlor singing some enthusiastic songs - loudly. Devin Pfeiffer is an endearing Tobias Ragg. Pfeiffer plays to the character's sense of survival but also showing that he isn't the sharpest. His voice is strong, and conveys the passion of protecting Mrs. Lovett with tender innocence. Ian Jones is killing me as Pirelli. He marches into the scene like a peacock during mating season, all spread out with fanfare and bravado. His high notes are a comedic treasure, as he sucks every teet dry from every cow in the surrounding area. I don't know if there are cows around, but I thought that was funny. The rest of the cast is on point from Luke Scattergood as Jonas Fogg, and the incredibly voiced company of Jessica Agnor Pringle, Antonio DeJesus, Joe Gibson, John Kost, Allison Naso, Paige Schiller, and the luminous Julie Penzvalto.

Matthew Dolan leads an accomplished orchestra as they take on an incredibly demanding score, and come out the winner. I thought it sounded full, and just a moment or two out of step, but nothing that deterred from the show.

Their life in a nutshell.  Photo Credit: Andy Dudik
Directing this epic journey is Jonathan Kronenberger. He has done a great job bringing these talented actors technical elements together to bring the show to life. My major comment is that the production isn't as dark as I would have liked. A more developed ambiance of darkness within each character would have taken a very good show, and made it great. Musically, the show seems to lack the literal bass notes of the score. Ciamacco and Altman are not basses or choose not to use their bass quality, and that would have provided more depth to their characters. Or Sweeney already sliced the neck of every bass in London, and that is understandable. When the Judge is beating himself with the whip, it looks like he is shoeing away a fly off his back, instead of beating himself out of rage for having impure thoughts and losing that battle. Tobias at the end with the grinder seems so dark and confused, I wished there had been more darkness throughout the play. The company started off with a bang. When they all turned in to the middle on "Swing your razor high", it was spine chilling. But then everytime after, they came in, took a position, and sang in different directions, and then left. I wish those exchanges could be more layered. I think moving those company members on a set that was too close to the pipes for some, and too low for exits, was handled well enough. I don't think you could have stopped the occasional bop on the forehead, but luckily, none too distracting.

Carole Leiblinger-Hedderson called a great show. The pace was excellent. Luke Scattergood did a great job on costumes, sans the Beggar Woman wig. Blood Design on point, of course, from the house of blood. The Chair design was excellent and one of the highlights of the show, which also means you can add Welder to Ciamacco's talents.

As of this writing, the show is basically sold out, with just a few tickets remaining, so I would get on it.

Cleveland Stage Alliance

Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

February 23 - March 10


8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
7pm Sundays

Runtime: 2h 35m
Content Advisories: Intense violence, some language

$18 General Admission

(440) 941-0458
Order Tickets Online

Blank Canvas Theatre
1305 West 80th Street, Suite 211
Cleveland, OH 44102