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'Sweeney Todd' run slays at the Onyx Theatre

Cast members from "Sweeney Todd" (photo from Onyx Theatre's Facebook)
Cast members from "Sweeney Todd" (photo from Onyx Theatre's Facebook)
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.