Magazine article The Sondheim Review

City on Fire

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

City on Fire

Article excerpt

Wolf Trap Opera Company stages a stripped-down Sweeney

Despite an all-time record high temperature of 105 degrees at nearby Dulles Airport earlier in the day and an equatorially humid evening, the Wolf Trap Opera Company performed a semi-staged version of Sweeney Todd on July 22, 2011, at the Filene Center. The open-air pavilion is located in Vienna, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. This was a big-band rendition, as veteran Broadway conductor and orchestrator Larry Blank expertly led 68 members of the National Symphony Orchestra, including 50 strings and 18 wind and percussion instruments.

The orchestra was located behind the singers, and the minimal production included a few props and Operascape's video projections. At times resembling drawings by Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, the projections were displayed on a 60-foot screen. Since the Filene Center is a family venue, some of the show's sharper contours were smoothed over by director Tara Faircloth; eliminating entire scenes kept the running time with intermission to two-and-one-half hours.

Economic necessity might have dictated the length of this stripped-down Sweeney, but it also dissipated a lot of the show's tension. Judge Turpin did not rape Lucy, his self-flagellation and erotic climax in "Johanna" were barely suggested and several important scenes were cut, including the Judge telling Johanna he intends to marry her and telling Beadle Bamford they can take the afternoon off, while cynically commenting about the people he sentences in his courtroom. The scene that begins with Anthony and the bird seller and culminates when the Beadle wrings the caged bird's neck was also expunged. As a result, the evil and corruption that the Judge and the Beadle symbolize were diluted, reducing Sweeney's justification for the self-righteous slaughter he inflicts on both the innocent and his antagonists.

Except for a couple of slightly raised platforms, the action was performed on the stage floor. Since there was no trapdoor and chute, each victim dispatched by Todd was disposed of by stripping down to blood-stained T-shirts or night gowns. Instead of sparing a customer because his wife accompanies him, Todd slits both their throats (children were not cast in this production) . …

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