U Opera, Utah Philharmonia Brave Sondheim’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ Chair – The Daily Utah Chronicle


Utah School of Music presents “Sweeney Todd” (courtesy of artstickets.utah.edu)

If you have never had the express pleasure of visiting Kingsbury Hall, please put down literally everything you read this and take a quick tour. This building is absolutely beautiful and incredibly deeply haunted – the grated cement ceilings, the pipes on the wall, the weird yellow hanging lights, the larger than life portraits on either side of the stage. Anything and everything points to the hauntings and specters that no doubt float between the squashed seats. Personally, I can’t imagine a better setting to witness the gripping story of everyone’s favorite murderous barber, Sweeney Todd.

An arduous task

Take one of from Sondheim most illustrious titles is by no means an easy task. The reputation around “Sweeny Todd” creates a daunting expectation and an interesting dichotomy on the part of audiences. Customers hope to experience the same thrills they felt watching people like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but they also expect a fresh take on the source material. Pitfalls surround a sight like this and I raise my cap for any effort to brave them.

Shines and Goofs

the U Opera and Utah Philharmonic proved almost immediately that they came to play. A shrill, high-pitched organ started the show, slicing our ears and putting unease in our hearts – the demon barber is coming, and he will have no mercy. The Philharmonia was just phenomenal for the duration of the show. Honestly, they were the main reason to go see this animated rendition of “Sweeney Todd.” The tsunami of sound they created was haunting and larger than life, moving and beautiful as the symphony echoed through the haunted halls of Kingsbury.

Unfortunately, the rest of the production was not so perfect. The show took a disappointing turn soon enough due to a major sound technical error. The singers of opening title were not heard as their microphones appeared to be off. Instead of their voices, we heard what sounded like whispers from behind the scenes. It detracted from what could have been a brilliant number. Throughout the show, the sound department seemed to struggle with microphones as performers seemingly entered and exited randomly.

The struggles did not end there. While John K. Allen anchored himself with a fantastic portrayal as Sweeney, the set often floundered with missed marks, missed lines, and confusing accents. I would be remiss if I did not also highlight an impressive performance by Bennet Chew as Judge Turpin.

The first trembling night

Opening night is always tough and full of anticipation. With a theater nearly packed, I can imagine nerves were very high. I equate many of the above mistakes to first night jitters and expect the direction of the “Sweeney Todd” rocket to have increased in their closing performance.

While not everything was perfect, “Sweeney Todd” was a fun and enjoyable production. The set was beautiful, the songs were wonderful, and the lighting was brilliant at Broadway level.

U Opera and Utah Philharmonia’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ was a smoky, chilling production worth the ticket. The darkness of the show was perfectly accentuated by the inherited charms of Kingsbury Hall. The haunting story of “Sweeney Todd” will undoubtedly stay close to your skin long after the curtains are closed.

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