Theater Review: Sweeney Todd

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Nashville Rep's outstanding production of Sweeney Todd runs through Saturday, Nov. 1.

Nashville Rep certainly serves up a bloody good time with its 30th season opener!

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Oct. 4 – Nov. 1; Ages 12 and older)
Nashville Repertory Theatre
TPAC’s Johnson Theater
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
782-4040 •
Show times: Tue – Thu 6:30 p.m., Fri 7:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $62.50 – $72.50

Nashville Repertory Theatre (formerly Tennessee Repertory Theatre) celebrates and kicks off its 3oth season with an exemplary production of Stephen Sondheim’s celebrated musical classic, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s a top-notch rendition of Sweeney Todd and no doubt one of the best musicals the Rep’s produced in its three-decade history.

Based on Christopher Bond’s 1973 play of the same name, the musical adaptation of Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 and garnered three Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score.

Set in 19th century London, Sweeney Todd tells the story of a man’s obsession with seeking revenge on the town’s Judge Turpin (deftly played by Galen Fott) for banishing him to a penal colony years ago on trumped-up charges. Given the layers of relationships and deception throughout the story, the overlying moral of the story speaks to the reality of how a blood-hungry thirst for revenge eventually delivers a harsh comeuppance to the vengeful.

Director Rene Copeland’s assembly of the cast for this show is impeccable, from long-time Rep veterans to newcomers of the Rep’s stage. Considering Sweeney Todd is mostly sung through (about 85 percent of the story is told through song), having a group of actors with dynamic vocal talent is paramount, and this cast truly delivers phenomenal performances of Sondheim’s celebrated work.

At the forefront is Nashville favorite Matthew Carlton as Sweeney Todd. This production marks the 25th anniversary of Carlton’s first show with the Rep (this one marks his 38th Rep production overall), and the role of Todd is a perfect match for him. Carlton boldly embraces the internal anguish and anger within his character with aplomb, and it’s remarkable to watch him dive deep into the menacing, maniacal mindset of Todd juxtaposed with the heartfelt reality of regret he experiences at the end.

Another beloved Nashville talent, Martha Wilkinson, reprises her outstanding performance of Mrs. Lovett (Wilkinson played this role in the Rep’s 2008 production of Sweeney Todd). The Lovett character really gives Wilkinson a wonderful opportunity to showcase her amazing stage presence and talent both vocally and in regard to her comedic timing (yes, there are several humorous moments sprinkled throughout the show).

It’s great fun to experience Rep newcomers Nathan Meyer and Whitney Meyer playing opposite each other as Anthony and Johanna, respectively. This real-life married couple are both Belmont grads who are enjoying success in New York, and their on-stage chemistry is undeniably passionate. Although Nathan sings at times with a little too much vibrato, he has a great vocal ability, particularly evident in his solo number, “Johanna,” in Act I. Whitney’s beautiful voice is nothing short of angelic (“Kiss Me”), leaving the audience yearning for more.

Returning Rep players round out the cast, including Megan Murphy Chambers (Beggar Woman), Patrick Waller (Tobias), Samuel Whited (Beadle Bamford), Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva (Birdseller) and Bobby Whyckoff, who gives a truly colorful performance as Pirelli.

Gary Hoff’s masterful set is a recreation of his work from the 2008 production with enhancements that work perfectly in Johnson Theater, and Michael Barnett’s vivid lighting design greatly accentuates the set and mood on stage. Music Director Jason Tucker leads an amazing six-piece orchestra that brilliantly serves Sondheim’s memorable score.

While Sweeney Todd is certainly too macabre for young children given the throat-cutting sequences executed by Todd that come with occasional blood splatter effects, it’s a perfect show to enjoy with older kids or as your next parents’ night out date. One thing’s for sure: Nashville Rep certainly serves up a bloody good time with its 30th season opener!


Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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