Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Atlantis Theatrical)


Ex-convict Benjamin Barker comes back to London as Sweeney Todd (Jett Pangan) to look for his wife and daughter as well as exact revenge on Judge Turpin (Andrew Fernando), who framed him up for a crime he didn’t commit in an effort to steal his wife. Pie maker Mrs. Lovett (Lea Salonga) welcomes him back to the area and helps in setting up his barbershop, which quickly becomes popular because of his superb skills. Unbeknownst to many, Todd and Lovett have formed a criminal partnership wherein he slits the throats of his customers, many of them men who did him wrong in the past, before dropping them down a trapdoor leading to her bake shop where their bodies are minced and used as the key ingredient in her mouth-watering meat pies. With the help of sailor Anthony Hope (Gerald Santos) who finds Barker’s daughter Johanna (Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante), Todd will not stop until he gets his revenge and his family back.

The only comparison I can think of is a faint recollection of the film from Tim Burton and friends, which isn’t much. The production takes advantage of Solaire’s spacious stage and presents a dystopic reimagining with the likes of broken cars hanging from the ceiling. A red pick-up truck serves as the all-around stage for both Todd and Lovett, manually pushed around and rotated by the ensemble to depict either motion or montage. Add the full orchestra and your audio-visual needs end up more than satisfied.

I’ve only seen Salonga onstage once, but God of Carnage wasn’t a musical. This is the first time I’m hearing her sing live. There’s obviously nothing left to prove, and her performance lends the world-class caliber the production needs. Pangan has been frequenting the local theater scene lately and never fails to deliver as far as vocal prowess is concerned. The way he hits and sustains his notes effectively complements Salonga’s West End vocal chops and hearing them sing together is literally music for the ears.

As for the supporting cast, Castro offers solid vocal support as the Beggar Woman, while the rest tend to have some minor inconsistencies as far as accent is concerned. While Salonga goes full-on Cockney and believably so, Pangan’s accent seems to be a confused mix that sounds far from British. Santos, on the other hand, seems to be holding back in his singing, which can be dismissed as just part of the characterization for his solos. However, his voice almost fades in the background when he sings the duets.

Bradshaw-Volante also does not shine that much here as Johanna, coming from the heels of her spotlight-hogging turn as Cynthia Weil in Beautiful. She sings beautifully, no doubt, but the character just comes off as annoying and rather dull. In the end, maybe it’s just the way the character is written? It is perhaps Luigi Quesada as Tobias who steals the show thanks to his convincing portrayal of the simpleton who finds solace as well as an unlikely mother figure in Mrs. Lovett. Their “Not While I’m Around” duet is just so full of heart.

As for the storyline, well it is a tragedy. The premise itself already hints on a not-so-happy ending. Poetic justice at its best, perhaps? Besides, all of those characters appear to be doomed from the very beginning that there seems to be no other way to redeem them than to conclude their misery the way it is done here. The production design jives well with the darkness of the material and the gloomy beats of its soundtrack is just the perfect companion to support this musical’s overall pessimistic tone. 

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