I worked on many, many musicals in my teens and early twenties, and the overkill has had a lasting effect. As a result, I rarely go to see musical theatre unless it’s something really special. Fortunately the production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd that’s just opened at the Adelphi Theatre, starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, is very special indeed.
Michael Ball is a muscular, embittered, brooding Todd who becomes murderous after miscarriages of justice, and being double-crossed and blackmailed. His transformation via costume, hair and makeup is quite startling and he clearly relishes the role. Imelda Staunton displays impeccable comedy timing as the opportunistic, morally ambiguous Mrs. Lovett who profits from the murders and hankers romantically after an oblivious Todd. So much so, in fact that she threatens to steal every scene that she’s in.
The Sondheim score is by turns melodramatic, bawdy, self-knowing, and occasionally poignant, and the entire cast put in impressive performances. It’s a big and bold production with atmospheric, clever set design, and some satisfyingly schlocky, gory special effects are thrown in to boot. Every aspect of this musical shows extreme attention to detail.
There was a standing ovation at the end of the second act, and rightly so. Definitely worth getting hold of a ticket.
Edited to add: if you’d like a little look at the goings-on during the opening night, there’s some video footage for you here.