Review: “Sweeney Todd” in Napa

Within the last year we’ve lost Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim and each passing brought to mind their most successful collaboration – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The original Broadway production nabbed eight of the nine Tonys for which it was nominated and has become a Halloween-season staple of community theatres. After years of pandemic-induced delays, Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions finally takes a stab at it. Their version runs through November 6.

After years in exile, Benjamin Barker (Ian Elliot) returns to London having adopted the moniker of Sweeney Todd. Todd seeks revenge on the villainous Judge Turpin (David Murphy) and his enforcer Beadle Bamford (Sean O’Brien) for the loss of his wife and daughter. He enters into a pact with pie-shop owner Nellie Lovett (Taylor Bartolucci) to facilitate his revenge and provide the pie shop with a steady supply of fresh meat.

Director Staci Arriaga had her hands full with making a very large-scale musical work in the small Lucky Penny space. Obvious priority was given to vocal talent and the show really scores there. Uniformly fine voices deliver Sondheim’s clever but exceedingly-difficult-to-perform lyrics while the score was flawlessly delivered by musical director Craig Burdette (piano) with Wendy Seres (clarinet), Jay Benson (bassoon), Ruth Wilson (horn) and Ellen Blakely (cello).

The ensemble from “Sweeney Todd” enjoys their ‘meat’ pies…

Ian Elliot’s strong stage presence matched his fine vocals as the tortured Todd. Lovett is a good role for Bartolucci, but her Cockney accent of varying thicknesses made some of Sondheim’s lyrics indecipherable. Great supporting work is done by Jeremy Kreamer as rival barber Pirelli and Tuolumne Bunter as his assistant Tobias. Romantic duties were well-handled both vocally and performance-wise by Ethan Thomas as Anthony and Kirstin Pieschke as Johanna.

While delivering strong vocal work, there was a decided lack of malevolence in both Murphy’s Turpin and O’Brien’s Bamford. These characters are truly loathsome and need to be played exponentially and less-superficially darker.

Staging was an obvious challenge. While the tonsorial parlor customers’ “exits” were well handled, the placement of actors on audience-area platforms and in aisles led to some awkward sightlines and blocked views. Cast members occasionally towered over audience members. Spreading the musicians across the stage and on multiple levels was an interesting idea.

An ambitious production for this company, its successful elements make this Sweeney Todd a cut above your regular community theatre fare.

‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ runs through Nov. 6 at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center. 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thurs, 7pm; Fri–Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. $32–$43. 707.266.6305.

Photos by Kurt Gonsalves

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.