CSTC Presents: Sweeney Todd

By Samantha Plotner

SWEENEYYY!!!

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is one of Stephen Sondheim’s best-known musicals. It is a difficult show to pull off, not because of any technical challenge, but because of the lofty demands on its actors. The score, for example, requires a great deal of musical ability; a constant challenge in a show where there is almost no spoken dialogue. However, the inherent difficulties of the musical are a gift for the Crown and Scepter Theatre Company (CSTC) because of its talented cast, making the small technical glitches in the production fade away from view.

The CSTC is a new presence in the Columbia theatre community. It was founded by Joseph Rozenshtein (CC ’12/SIPA ’13) and Mitchell Feinberg (SEAS ’13) this semester primarily for the production of Sweeney (Rozenshtein directs and Feinberg is the musical director). Instead of putting on the production in a venue on campus, it is being performed at Symphony Space. Along the way, the production has had its fair share of challenges (if you’ve been near East Campus in the past few weeks, you’ve likely seen them rehearsing outside or in the lounge), making the results even more impressive.

Michael Carter (CC’14) shines as Sweeney Todd, managing to be incredibly creepy while still succeeding in gaining the audience’s sympathy. Shelley Farmer (BC ’14) provides some humor as Mrs. Lovett, while still managing the role’s more dramatic moments. Playing the young lovers Anthony and Johanna, Andrew Wright (CC ’14) and Kyra Bloom (BC ’15), bring some light into the otherwise dark show, particularly in their duet “Kiss Me.” Omar El-Okdah (GSAS ’12), however, steals the show as Judge Turpin, and Sweeney is at its best when Carter and El-Okdah duet in “Pretty Women” and “The Judge’s Return.” The rest of the cast is also full of talent, so the show never has a dull moment.

Rozenshtein and the rest of the production team make full use of Symphony Space’s intimate Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater. At several points during the production the cast enters the seating area, an interesting way to use the venue’s small space, which is taken up largely by a massive platform used as the barber shop. The set and props are minimal, with the notable exception of a massive barber chair that appears in the second act. When it was carried onstage, I couldn’t help but wonder where on earth they had found it.

The production is certainly not perfect. There were a few noticeable technical glitches that can likely be attributed to their limited rehearsal time in Symphony Space. However, Sweeney was still a very enjoyable way to spend an evening, particularly if you have never seen this Sondheim classic.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will give two more performances at Symphony Space on November 4th at 5:30pm and 9pm. Tickets are $10 + processing fees on the Symphony Space website with the discount code sw20n1y1, and can also be purchased at the box office.

Check out The Nine Ways of Knowing Event Calendar for more events on campus and around the city.

Samantha is a junior at Barnard and the Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing. Despite not being involved in student theatre, she has seen more productions on campus than most of the Nine Ways staff.

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4 thoughts on “CSTC Presents: Sweeney Todd

  1. Unless the 5pm performance on Monday was drastically better than the 9pm, I'm really not sure what production you're reviewing when you say “impressive” and “full of talent.” Mr. El-Okdah's sonorous bass was gorgeous (when you could hear it), but just as with about 2/3 of the rest of the cast, he has very little skill at the art and mechanics of acting. Mr. Carter as Sweeney lumbered around like Solomon Grundy, often didn't hit the right notes, and dropped a couple of lyrics in almost every song. Ms. Farmer's turn as Lovett was definitely the high point of the production, and she deserves accolades, especially since Lovett's very first song is one of the most complex tasks in all of modern theater. But everything else was amateurish – there was at least one string instrument badly out of tune, some singers were over-mic'd to the point of ear pain, and some singers were completely unmic'd, leaving them drowned out behind the orchestra. Crew members in t-shirts and jeans came out on stage, in the light, during a song, to make adjustments to the set. Mr. Bridges as Beadle Bamford has the right vocal range, but has no idea how to stand still or what to do with his hands. And Ms. Mattow's Beggar Woman was comic relief for all the wrong reasons.

    “Sweeney Todd” is indeed difficult and extremely ambitious, and in fairness, Crown & Scepter is to be commended for tackling the entire book instead of an abridged version like the Tim Burton film. The problem is that a gourmet seven-course meal is a tempting challenge to tackle, but starting with Bisquick and Spam as your ingredients is a pretty surefire way to miss your mark. A “Sweeney Todd” without a genuinely talented Sweeney is already doomed to failure no matter how talented and well-prepared the rest of the cast and crew, and this cast and crew was neither.

  2. Anonymous: Did you see the production? Do you have a different opinion of it? Fine – present it here, coherently and with detail to back you up. I've said my piece, and I have no personal axe to grind with anyone involved in the production. I just don't think theater reviews are an appropriate place to give As for effort when the final result is painful to watch.

  3. I wish I had been clever enough to come up with the comment above, but I did see the production and it wasn't nearly as bad as you made it out to be. Maybe it wasn't dripping with talent, which I admit was disappointing at first, and the crew member coming out in full light to put out the meat grinder was pretty distracting. But after a while I got accustomed to the actors and I enjoyed the story and the production as a whole. “Painful to watch” is a serious overstatement. It sounds like you honestly just went to the show to pull it apart, which, unless you are somehow a qualified critic, is just rude.

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