"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
On opening night at the Weekend Theater, more than 30 actors performed the dark, carnival-like musical that is “Sweeney Todd.” The play, recently revived to fame by a Tim Burton film featuring Johnny Depp, follows Sweeney Todd, “the demon barber of Fleet Street,” as he hunts his own white whale — the judge who ruined his life.
Weekend Theater founder and artistic director Ralph Hyman plays the revenge-seeking Todd. In the course of his mission, he uses his barber chair as a front to slice the throats of various customers. His partner, Mrs. Lovett, played by Kathryn Pryor, brandishes her entrepreneurial spirit by utilizing the meat of the victims to enliven her stale pie-making business.
The Weekend Theater always fares best with productions featuring a large cast. The little theater swells with drama and energy when a host of performers parade in and out, filling the stage area and the aisles. With “Sweeney Todd,” the flood of cast members, their faces streaked with charcoal to give them a subterranean look, took on the smarmy nature of the musical. In the opening scene of Act Two, they sat around a long table, drinking, banging their tin cups in percussion as they sang about Mrs. Lovett's fabulous pies. Ensemble performer Byron Taylor drunkenly leaned his body onto the lap of the couple seated beside me. This move was performed for the benefit of a few in the audience, the majority of which had their eyes focused on the main action, but is a prime example of how the Weekend Theater's intimacy can enrich a production.
“Sweeney Todd” featured some of the most solid singing I have yet to hear at the theater. Some vocal performances exceeded expectation — Zachary Hickman as Tobias, for example, and ensemble member Darren Drone.
The most remarkable performance came from Kathryn Pryor. She consumed her role as Mrs. Lovett. Her gritty Londoner accent never faltered, not while she spoke and not while she sang or danced. It seemed that every line she delivered shot the audience into laughter.
The bare-bones, yet functional set deserves a note of mention. As Todd, Hyman had only to pull a lever on his red and black barber's chair to send his victims sliding into the pit below, disappearing into the basement, soon to be baked in Lovett's pies. The oven blew out its wretched smoke each time the door opened, and orange lights glowed below as the flame pit.
Congratulations Tara, beautifully written!