A slice of revenge - Coeur d'Alene Press: Entertainment

A slice of revenge

'Sweeney Todd' opens tonight at the Playhouse

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Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - Daniel Bell has long wanted the part of Sweeney Todd.

He got it.

Now comes the hard part.

Because playing the guy who comes to be known as The Demon Barber of Fleet Street comes with certain challenges.

If you've seen this musical, you know what that means.

"He's not a hero. He's the opposite of a hero," Bell said. "He shows you what a hero becomes if he gives in to revenge."

There are risks in playing such a character, Bell said, which is why he wanted this one.

"You're trying to get the audience to sympathize with you, at the same time, you're doing these terrible things," he said.

Terrible things like slashing throats and breaking necks. Retribution hurts.

It is described this way on the Playhouse website:

"When revenge is one's motive, the outcome can only be tragic. In 1786, Benjamin Barker becomes the Demon Barber of London's Fleet Street in this sophisticated operetta filled with macabre wit."

Todd becomes consumed by revenge in the musical that opens tonight at the Lake City Playhouse. He kills with precision, swiftly and quickly ending the lives of unfortunate souls who sit in the seat of his barbershop, as he retaliates for what happened to his wife years before.

Playhouse artistic director George Green is also director of Sweeney Todd, which was written by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. And like Bell, he took on the musical because of the challenges that come with it - and opportunities

"The show is not all doom and gloom. It has plenty of delightful moments. You will be surprised by how well this show can entertain you," he wrote.

He believes the audience will like it for the singing, the acting, the music and yes, the message.

Yes, there is a message.

"With so many terrifying events occurring in recent years, we need to remember that men and women like Sweeney Todd do exist," he wrote. "The choice to take malice or revenge into one's heart only leads to horrific endings. We see many shows about taking the right path - this one shows you the chaos of taking the wrong one."

Green has high praise for his cast, which includes Abbey Crawford as Mrs. Lovette, Todd's accomplice, and Brendan Brady as Anthony.

They do a nice job, he said, of keeping the show fluid.

"The cast really pulls the audience in on a show like this one," he said. "It is positioned for the ensemble to break the wall a bit and really warn the audience to heed this story's message. The opening lyrics specifically tell the audience to attend the tale."

This stage version of Sweeney Todd, said Green, is far different than the 2007 film version that starred Johnny Depp. Not just, of course, in terms of production and size, but in artistry.

"First, the film is extremely dark. The stage version is by far more balanced. It sends a great warning that taking the path of revenge will lead to disaster while blending in wonderfully witty moments of levity," Green wrote. "The other difference is the film was not solid vocally at all. The LCP theatrical version is full of fantastic singers - from the top to bottom of the cast list."

So what happened to Sweeney Todd that drives him to slit and slash?

The story is basically this: A man named Benjamin Barker has a beautiful wife and a child. A judge who lusts after the wife has Barker sent to prison on false charges, and later rapes Barker's wife. She commits suicide.

Barker, who returns some 15 years later under the name Sweeney Todd, vows revenge and goes about seeking it with his barber's razor and a chair that tilts back a bit too far.

Bell said Todd knows it's wrong to kill, but believes it is justified. So, no remorse here. He's a singing barber, yes, but a violent one, too.

The music, Bell said, is "almost captivating." He described it as "beautiful and sad" as it draws the audience into the story.

"How could a musical about such a dark subject have such beautiful music?" he asked.

The music is essential.

"If it didn't have that kind of music, it would really repel people because of the darkness."

Sweeney Todd is about more than one man's obsession with vengeance. It's about human decisions and their consequences,

"It's about what we do when confronted with loss," Bell said.

Sweeney Todd runs through March 3 at the Playhouse.

Tickets: 667-1323 or lakecityplayhouse.org

Volunteer, get a ticket

See Sweeney Todd for free by volunteering at the Lake City Playhouse. Roles include being an usher, selling concessions or raffle tickets. Info: lcp.ivolunteer.com/sweeney_todd

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