Theatre Review: Sweeney Todd

Mrs. Lovett (Claudia Cromley) and Mr. Todd (Eugene Sumlin)
Photo by Steve Wagner

Having opened on Nov. 3, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street continues through Nov. 13 at the Allen Theatre of Playhouse Square, with an ASL-supported performance on Nov. 10. The production, put on by the Cleveland State University Theatre department, is directed by Russ Borski and Holly Holsinger. 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street transports the audience back to 19th-century London, where they attend the tale of Sweeney Todd- a barber formerly known by the name of Benjamin Barker. Todd returns to his old place of establishment after years away due to wrongful incarceration, but only to find his wife and daughter taken from him by the very Judge who sent him away. Full of spite and anger, Todd seemingly lets revenge take over, slaughtering every man who comes in the path of his vengeance against the Judge. 

In this production, the role of Sweeney Todd is played by Eugene Sumlin, a guest artist at CSU. Sumlin is a professional actor who directed She Loves Me for the department last academic year. The Judge is played by Elias Palmer, a current Political Science major at CSU. 

Todd’s first victim is a competing barber, Adolfo Pirelli. But Pirelli really isn’t who he says he is, either. This posing Italian barber is actually the young Irish lad who once apprenticed with Benjamin Barker. Actor Jaren Thomas Hodgson effectively switches back and forth between the two accents. 

Moving along in the story, Todd reconnects with Mrs. Lovett, the owner of the pie shop downstairs, which is known for selling the worst pies in London. They join in cahoots to solve the problem of what to do with the bodies. Suddenly, meat isn’t so scarce, and Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop has a sudden boom in business…if you catch my drift. 

This two-story set has a slide that allows the victims of Mr. Todd to be transported down to the cellar, where they go from the meat grinder and into the oven. The set can also be rotated to show different locations, and the use of shadows on the backdrop are visually pleasing.

The role of Mrs. Lovett is played by senior theatre major Claudia Cromley- who you may recognize from past CSU productions, such as Blithe Spirit, and as usual, delivers a captivating performance

In the midst of Mr. Todd and Mrs. Lovett’s “respectable business,” we also have the love story of Johanna Barker and Anthony Hope. Johanna Barker, played by Brooke Hamilton, is the daughter of Benjamin Barker- who is being held captive by the Judge and forced into marriage. However, the Judge is not the only one who has taken a liking to the girl in the white dress on the balcony- Johanna has also caught the eye of Anthony Hope (Maxwell David Gierke). Together Anthony and Johanna conspire to sneak away and be married before the Judge has the chance to marry Johanna.

In this 2.5-hour-long production, the first act is about an hour and a half in length, but a lot happens in the shorter second act. At the end of this show, two characters take on larger roles in this storyline than previously expected. Those characters are the beggar woman (Emerson Santuomo) and Tobias Ragg (Eisley Sims). 

The old beggar woman, who, despite Santuomo’s strong performance, seems a character of not much importance until now. But when this unlucky soul wanders up to Mr. Todd’s barber shop, her true identity isn’t revealed until after her death. Once down in the meat cellar, Mr. Todd woefully discovers the true identity of this woman as that of his beloved wife- who, up until this point, the audience believes to already be dead.

It is Tobias, a young child that Mrs. Lovett has taken under her wing, that really steals the show. Toby is the one to put an end to the demon barber of Fleet Street finally. The audience is left with the startling image of the child, surrounded by bodies, grinding away at the meat grinder.

This large ensemble show had a surprising number of skilled singers, and they did well with the English dialect- keeping up with Sondheim’s faced-paced lyrics. The score provides an interesting contrast to the dark themes in this musical drama. 

Please visit their website for more information about the theatre department and purchase tickets: https://artsandsciences.csuohio.edu/theatredance/sweeney-todd

Author: Trinity Stevens

Trinity Stevens is a current student at Cleveland State University majoring in Dance in Community, minoring in Theatre Studies, and pursuing a certificate in Arts Management & Community Development.