When director Brandon Burk greeted the audience during Sweeney Todd’s third (and, sadly, final) weekend, he took time to thank the entire Vegas theater community for lending a hand in the making of the play, beaming with the kind of pride a chef might display before serving guests an unforgettable meal — which serves as an appropriately tasty metaphor for Stephen Sondheim’s famous cannibalistic musical.
I admit, when I first heard Off-Strip Productions was planning to mount a fully-staged production of Sweeney Todd at the snug 98-seat Onyx Theatre, I was skeptical. A Broadway-style musical produced on an itty-bitty stage in an off-Strip commercial center next to a swinger’s club and behind a sex shop could prove disastrous, or, even worse, totally mediocre. But Burk and the superbly talented group of actors, musicians and set designers pulled it off, transforming a simple square of dark space into terrifically gruesome Fleet Street.
The play opened with Troy Tinker as straight-jacketed man-child Tobias, sole witness to the dastardly deeds of the demon barber, and musical narrator for the production. As Sweeney, Chris Mayse was a quickly likable, albeit tormented dude, racked by anger and vengeance, but still able to crack jokes between (and sometimes during) his murderous sprees. Kellie White slayed as his sadistic meat-pie-making sidekick, nailing the play’s dark comedy with perfect timing and a knock-out voice.
Unlike some community musicals that might feature one or two stand-out musical talents, there were a lot of strong performances here, including angel-voiced Alexa Freeman as young Johanna; Scott Gibson-Uebele as her suitor, Kim Glover, Michael Drake as showy salesman Adolfo Pirelli; and Bill Flynn as Beadle Bamford. The cast never skipped a bit, even despite a few stage mishaps — including the snapping-off of a piece of the demon barber’s treacherous trap door early on.
In the end, the intimate staging, featuring four string musicians directed by Zoë Kohen Ley, a circulating stage designed by David Sankuer featuring several well-constructed settings, and the talented ensemble singers stretching their vocal chords way up into the audience pews, all added up to an ovation-worthy performance.
I wish I could have made it to an earlier show so this review could serve as a recommendation to see it — and tonight's final show is sold out — but it pleases me to know it wouldn’t have mattered, anyhow. Audiences showed up; entire weekends sold out; and the performance delivered a triumphant and always-welcome injection of excitement and enthusiasm into Vegas’ community theatre scene.