I've never seen an audience at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook leap to their feet in applause and ovations as quickly with well-deserved praise, as what I witnessed at Wednesday's opening night of "Sweeney Todd."
Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the mad barber and his fiendish female helper isn't often produced.
So this cut-above production running through Oct. 9 is an ideal chance to explore the darker side of theater entertainment.
Masterfully directed and choreographed by multi-Jeff Award winner Rachel Rockwell, this almost three-hour, one intermission heart-pounding story is devilishly delightful.
It has it all, including starring four-time Tony Award nominee Gregg Edelman as "Sweeney Todd" and Liz McCartney wearing the dough and soul stained apron of "Mrs. Lovett."
This theater thriller is based on the 1973 play "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street" by Christopher Bond.
Set in dark and gloomy Victorian London, "Sweeney Todd" is the tale of Benjamin Barker, an exiled barber who escapes prison after 15 years to seek revenge on Judge Turpin (played with fury and conviction by Kevin Gudahl), the man who unjustly imprisoned him and stole away his wife and child. He returns to London and changes his name to "Sweeney Todd," joining forces for revenge with the help of his former neighbor Mrs. Lovett, a diabolical meat-pie baker.
There's a parade of talent showcased in this show ranging from George Keating's fun and over-the-top Italian rival barber "Pirelli" to Heidi Kettenring as a pitiful beggar woman and young stand-out Jonah Rawitz as "Tobias Ragg." George Andrew Wolff boasts some great comic timing as weasly "Beadle Bamford."
Amber Mak serves as assistant director for the production and there are plentiful moments of woeful strains of a pipe organ included in Roberta Duchak's hauntingly beautiful musical direction. Jeff Award winner Kevin Depinet's simple and sulking scenic design of London's infamous Fleet Street sets the moods for chills, with sinister surprises throughout, all without even a drop of fake blood. (Hanging slender backdrop panels, reminiscent of the straps used for sharpening a shaving razor, or seemingly splattered with dried blood and prove quite versatile.)
The costume design is by Theresa Ham, coupled with wig design by Rick Jarvie, are ideal, along with the sound created by Garth Helm, assures goosebumps.
Make no mistake, this is a musical that's heavy on sung dialogue, and at times near operatic. Edelman in his lead, hits every note, all with distinction, a crazed smile and piercing glance. McCartney is a joy to behold, never taking herself or anything around her too seriously, making it all that more delightfully bizarre, given her character and her surroundings.
Musical numbers like "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," "The Worst Pies in London," "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir," "A Little Priest" and "God, That's Good" are simply delicious, leaving the audience craving more.
Tickets are $35 to $68, with the latter range including lunch and dinner options and student tickets as low as $20. Free parking. FYI: (630) 530-0111 or drurylaneoakbrook.com.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 852-4327.