‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street’ – Serial Murder Musical at Its Best

By Ernest Kearney — There are those legendary hit musicals that graced the Great White Way to sold-out audiences, gathered enough awards to sink your average battleship and spawned touring companies carrying doppelgangers of the original production dipped in amber from Colon, Michigan to Placentia, California then back again to Buttzville, New Jersey by way of Briny Breezes, Florida.    

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler is such a legendary musical.

Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott shows herself to be well aware of the danger in handling a “legend” and wisely doesn’t offer her audiences a “museum piece.”   From the opening moment, it is obvious Her Sweeney belongs in the theatre.

Arranging the arrival of Sweeney (Geoff Elliott) and his youthful fellow passenger Anthony (James Everts) in London by train, Rodriguez-Elliott has its passengers seated in chairs that mimic the audience as it watches the opening number.

From here the director, as she explains in the program notes, imbues each character with recognizable “mental illness’,” and in doing so gives to the dark streets of Victorian London an echo we can plainly hear in the homeless of downtown Los Angeles.  It is Rodriguez-Elliott’s intention to present a “Sweeney Todd for the 21st Century” and she succeeds admirably. 

She sacrifices some of the romance in the play for a grimmer reality and the exchange pays off.

Elliott as the mad barber doing away with those who wronged him and Cassandra Marie Murphy as Mrs. Lovett, his paramour who disposes of his crimes’ inconvenient bodily evidence by resorting to a variation of In and Out Burgers sans the annoying Biblical verses, are strong enough to carry this demanding show by themselves. 

Fortunately for the audiences, their supporting cast proves more than capable of that task on their own.  Everts, as the young lover of Sweeney’s daughter Johanna (Joanna A. Jones,) and Kasey Mahaffy as the scheming blackmailer Pirelli are standouts in a cast of standouts.

By grounding the madness, the serial killing, the abuse of power and the disdain of the impoverished in terms of modernity, Rodriguez-Elliott has made her Sweeney Todd more recognizable to her audiences and therefore more disturbing, and shows the only differences between the plight of Ol’ London Towne and Los Angeles today is that one has the magnificent music of Sondheim and the other, only, its own recriminating silence.    

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A Noise Within

3352 E Foothill Blvd.

Pasadena, CA 91107

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Performances Continuing Through March 17

• Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.: Feb. 22; March March 7, March 14 (dark Feb. 29)

• Fridays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 16 ; Feb. 23**; March 1**; March 8**; March 15**

• Saturdays at 2 p.m.: Feb. 24; March 2; March 9; March 16

• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 24; March 2; March 9; March 16

• Sundays at 2 p.m.: Feb. 18; Feb. 25**; March 3; March 10; March 17

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Ernest Kearney - auhtor
Ernest Kearney



(626) 356-3100

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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