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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

‘Sweeney Todd’ brings murderous mayhem to Savannah Center stage

“Sweeney Todd” is a full-blooded blast.

The KC Productions’ version of Stephen Sondheim’s slasher operetta fit right in with the Halloween season Sunday at Savannah Center. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” runs through Tuesday.

Alex Santoriello and Brynn Neal put on a delightfully evil performance in ‘Sweeney Todd’ at Savannah Center on Sunday night.

Broadway veteran Alex Santoriello plays the title role with manic, vengeful energy. Santoriello chewed the scenery and just about everything else on stage, romping with razors and offering some staccato Cockney lyrics to Sondheim’s musically complex score.

But Santoriello was nearly outdone on this night by Brynn Neal, the conniving Mrs. Nellie Lovett. She teams with Sweeney to concoct murderous mayhem. Neal’s facial expressions, salty mannerisms and nasty vocals added up to a delightfully evil performance.

Dawn DiNome and Clark Barrios meet on stage during Sunday night’s performance of ‘Sweeney Todd.’

Santoriello and Neal closed the first act of the musical in explosive style, teaming up on “A Little Priest.” The joke is on anyone who would dare eat one of Mrs. Lovett’s pies.

Popular Villages performer Mary Jo Vitale plays Johanna and brings an operatic grandeur to her vocal performance.

Another highlight was the performance of Clark Barrios. He’s never played a major role in a big-stage musical in The Villages before, although he did sing in smaller venues. Barrios brought some light to this black-humored musical. His character – Anthony Hope – seems not only heroic but refreshingly innocent compared to the lowlifes walking the London streets in the late 1700s.

Barrios delivered a ballad, “Johanna,” with sweet sincerity. He sang it to Mary Jo Vitale, who played Johanna, with a kind of virginal bliss. She brought an operatic grandeur to her vocal performance.

At its core, “Sweeney Todd” – written by Hugh Wheeler – deals with love, betrayal and revenge.

Sweeney was a barber on Fleet Street who lost his wife and his freedom to Judge Turpin, played by Tim Casey with unrepentant glee. Now, Turpin is making eyes at Johanna, who is Sweeney’s daughter.

Sweeney is back in town after 15 years and ready to get even with Turpin and his partner in crime, Beadle Banford, played by Tony Brown.

Timothy Stewart prepares to give a nervous Sam Rosalsky a shave.

Once Mrs. Lovett hands Sweeney his barber tools, he is ready to cut a lot more than just hair. The second act is filled with more twists and turns than one of Sweeney’s close shaves.

The cast was up to the vocal challenge of Sondheim. Dawn DiNome, as the Hag-like Beggar Woman, played the character with witchy charm. Gerry Sherman’s Tobais Ragg hustled “Miracle Elixir” with gusto. Timothy Stewart brought some spice to Adolfo Pirelli with a broad Italian accent and split-personality.

Sam Rosalsky earned laughs while sitting for a shave, and Don Pona was smooth as bird-seller Jonas Fogg.

Alex Santoriello and Brynn Neal hit a high note in ‘Sweeney Todd’ at Savannah Center on Sunday night.

Liza Walters’ creative staging added to the creepy atmosphere and Violet Ray’s choreography brought more life into this deathly story. Santoriello directed the show and acted as executive producer with Joan Knapton.

“Sweeney Todd” is a challenging musical to perform and sometimes comprehend. It demands a thoughtful commitment from the performers, as well as the audience.

The lead character sets the tone early on when Sweeney says, “I feel the ghostly shadows everywhere.” This cast made those shadows seem real – and that may be what the art of live theater is all about.

Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.

The cast of ‘Sweeney Todd’ on stage at the Savannah Center after Sunday night’s performance.

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