I've always considered Sweeney Todd to be Stephen Sondheim's best musical. Dark as dark can be, it depicts London at its late-19th-century worst: a miserable, starving, filthy lower class repressed and lorded over by corrupt elite society against a backdrop of disease-ridden slums and skies choked with smoke. Yet somehow Sondheim and book author Hugh Wheeler managed to mine this grim subject matter for nuggets of musical gold, and the result is the most fun you can have watching people wallow in absolute misery for two acts.
Not surprisingly, it's been staged and revived numerous times. The original 1979 production brought Angela Lansbury a Tony award for her hilarious turn as Mrs. Lovett, the amoral pie baker, and I was fortunate enough to see the 2005 Broadway revisualization in which the actors (including a tuba-playing Patti LuPone) also served as the orchestra. Tim Burton did the show proud with his 2007 film adaptation which emphasized the darkness, disease and gore – and didn't mess with the music.
In the new production, currently playing at the Porticoes Theatre in Pasadena before it finishes its all-too-brief run at the Mles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica, the Pacific Opera Project goes back to the original 1979 staging in a revival that stays true to the source and is absolutely mesmerizing in its craftsmanship.
Phil Meyer is an ideal Todd, all fury and blazing eyes, and Amanda Carlin is a delightful Mrs. Lovett, bringing charm and humor to an essentially repulsive character. Eddie Sayles is superb as her simple-minded helper Toby, and his rendition of "Not While I'm Around" is faultless. Timothy Campbell and Hallie Silvertson capably fill the roles of the young would-be lovers, with Silverston especially bringing the right touch of madness to Todd's long-lost Johanna.