Asheville Community Theatre’s production of the chilling musical Sweeney Todd is perfectly timed for the season. It runs though Sunday, Oct. 30.
Jill Summers has been ACT’s technical director for several years, and has delivered consistent Broadway-quality design. Last year’s Young Frankenstein set a high bar that is now raised with the Todd set, a wonder to behold. The audience is transported to a filthy, foggy London street circa the 1800s. At the center, a large building structure houses a pie shop on the lower level and stairs leading to a barber shop above. Then it revolves on a turntable to show new sides and angles, revealing more locations within. Added to that is a barber-chair construction that converts into a slide and deposits victims down a chute to the lower level. Summers’ set earned a round of applause all on its own.
Such elaborate design could overshadow the cast, were it not for director Jerry Crouch’s keen eye for talent. In the title role, Steve Parkin brings an impressive and lengthy professional resume with him. Returned to London after a stint in an Australian prison, Todd (a new identity he has crafted) is hellbent on getting even with those who wronged him and have kept him from his young daughter, Johanna. Christy Montesdeoca’s Mrs. Lovett is the wily and wicked pie-shop owner who assists Todd in his plan for revenge. They are a delightful duo, despite the dark content. Montesdeoca shows an easy command of the difficult vocal stylings of Stephen Sondheim and lends some comic touches to this dark thriller of a musical.
Maximilian Koger heads up a strong supporting cast as Anthony, the young sailor who helps Todd get back to London. He coincidentally sees and falls in love with Johanna, who is under the iron rule of Judge Turpin. Turpin wishes to marry the young girl who he has kept as his ward since her mother apparently died and her father was imprisoned. Lora Ristau gives a wistful performance as Johanna, who finds herself locked away by Turpin in an attempt to keep her from Anthony.
Doug Hauschild, who has been a constant utility player in the mid-cast of many ACT shows, steps up and shines in a meaty role as the hiss-worthy Turpin. Corey Link’s turn as Tobias is sweet-yet-heartbreaking as he goes from being the servant of a local conman (played with panache by Bradshaw Call) to Mrs. Lovett’s doted-upon helper. Tobias begins to piece together the secret ingredients in her meat pies and their connection to the people who have gone missing (it turns out they were murdered by Todd’s razor). Link has a distinct, clear, tenor voice and charming presence, serving as something of a conduit for the audience into the dark world that unfolds on stage.
Rounding out the supporting cast is Leslie Lang as a mysterious beggar woman who weaves throughout the tale. Lang expertly contorts her body into a stooped position as she panhandles. However, her floppy headwear and extreme characterization make much of her performance hard to understand and slightly mute the final payoff for her character.
Lenora Thom leads a stellar orchestra of musicians who, despite being unseen, are heard clearly. Every word, every note and even the subtle clinking of Sweeny Todd’s prized straight razors can be heard with crystal clarity. Combined with the great cast and awe-inspiring set, this as-good-as-professional caliber production is a treat for the Halloween season.
WHAT: Sweeny Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler
WHERE: Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St. ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Though Sunday, Oct. 30. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. $15-25.