Sweeney Todd

New production better fits Sondheim's original vision


Through Oct. 14 at A.C.T., 415 Geary (between Mason & Taylor) S.F. Tickets are $30-82; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sfbay.org

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It was Stephen Sondheim's intention to simply write a dark, witty musical revenge fantasy in the tradition of the Parisian Grand Guignol, famed for its over-the-top graphic violence. The original 1979 Broadway production of Sweeney Todd starring Angela Lansbury had massive sets and a 27-piece orchestra, and though it was a big hit, it wasn't what the composer initially visualized. But this reimagined production, direct from Broadway and with much of the same stellar cast, is, in Sondheim's words, "the closest to what I originally wanted to do." The incomparably talented 10-person cast, using a range of instruments from cellos to xylophones, plays every note of the complex score, all the while acting and singing Sondheim's lyrical overlaps and rounds. There's a purity in this all-hands-on-deck storytelling that suits this tale of a wrongly imprisoned man seeking revenge with the swipe of his barber's blade. From the first moment when Todd (a haunted and brilliant David Hess) emerges from a black plywood coffin and joins forces with Mrs. Lovett (Tony Award–winner Judy Kaye) the macabre tone is set for the mayhem that includes cannibalism, straitjackets, insane asylums, and countless buckets of blood. This production and cast also manage to transcend all the pandemonium and dare to tell more of a soulful story of love and loss, and the wreckage that can ensue in a life consumed by revenge.

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