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My television has 500 channels. My digital watch has technology the Apollo project scientists never dreamed of. I can drive across the country and watch movies on my phone. I can sit down and talk to someone on the other side of the world, face-to-face, easier than I can write them a letter. Music is sold in content blocks of 500,000 songs and consumers can have access to all of the above for a nominal monthly subscription. So, why would someone attend a 3 hour tale about a barber whose story is over 150 years old? With all this easy access to media Carnegie Mellon University should be straining to attract business. However, the only burdens at the Philip Chosky Theater are the seats, which have been selling out. At their February 24th production of Sweeney Todd theater goers who arrived early expecting to buy their tickets at the door were waitlisted. Unfortunately most of them were turned away when the lights went down. Though, for those who arrived with tickets in tow, the evening’s experience was more captivating than the latest Silicon Valley gadget.

Director Joe Calarco’s production is a success because it takes risks. The audience is introduced to Benjamin Barker/Sweeney Todd, Denver Milford, as he descends from above the stage imprisoned in a metal cage. Mrs. Lovett, Lucia Roderique, climbs out of the abyss through a trap door, her pie making utensils underarm. Sweeney’s daughter Johanna, Jessie Shelton, spends most of her time perched on a trapeze above the stage. Even the set, which is mobile, though not much more than a raised platform that serves as Sweeney’s parlor and a large staircase is made interesting as actors ride it about the stage, guided by the supporting ensemble.

Each time Sweeney’s razor swings towards a victim’s throat the audience’s ears are assaulted with a shriek, worse than nails on a chalkboard. Blood spurts from each of the wounds like a fountain. In the second act the audience looks in to Mrs. Lovett’s bakery. Her meat pie factory is coated in slick crimson blood. The costumes are styled after the early 1900’s but suggest a touch of steampunk; straps and buckles where they don’t belong, studded leather gloves, pocket watches and corset gowns that give the clothing a slightly modern edge.

The most important part of a musical is the singing. Again, Sweeney Todd delivers. The actors voices are beautiful and lack the slightest glint of weakness. In “Have a Little Priest” Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett’s wicked duet is a diabolical delight. They delight at the souls who’ve entered their establishment for a shave and left as a meat pie. The song is full of fiendish charm and the fun emminent in both the characters and the actors.

Aside from a few minor malfunctions, a bird cage falling as it was twirled by an actor, a few errant flowers falling from above the stage much after the majority had been dispersed and a dropped prop or two the show is flawless. Even the flaws are flawless as was obvious in the actors ability to remain in character and still move the production along without distracting the audience. CMU’s Sweeney Todd presents a modern distraction through a seasoned story.


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