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Barker Players of Providence



Directed by Joan Dillenback

Reviewed by Tony Annicone, May 13, 2003

The closing show of The Players 94th season is Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney
Todd" which opened on Broadway on March 1,1979 and went on to win 8 Tony
Awards including Best Musical. The show is a macabre tragicomedy based on
the legend of a half-mad 19th century English barber who is driven to
crime when his wife and child are taken from him by an evil judge.

Unjustly imprisoned, Todd eventually escapes and vows to bring justice not
only to the judge who destroyed his life, but to all the people of London.
He forms a partnership with Mrs. Lovett, an enterprising bar mistress whose
previously worst pies in London soon become the tastiest with Todd's
victims as the secret ingredient in them. This tale of murder and
vengeance is given a topnotch presentation by the 20 member cast under
veteran director Joan Dillenback and the expert musical direction of Ron
Procopio who not only teaches the cast the difficult over 300 page score
but plays the keyboards for this show which is as close to an opera as a
musical can get. It rivets the audience to their seats by its magnificence.
Joan utilizes the whole stage to tell the tale of Sweeney Todd. Set
designer Dan Clement uses the brick back wall of the stage to portray 19th
century London. He has different sets rolled on and off the stage to take
the audience to the various locales in the city. Scenic artist, Elaine
Boober paints them all with the most  impressive one being the 2 story
barber shop complete with trap door which gets the dead bodies to Mrs.
Lovett's huge oven. Ron not only plays the keyboards, he conducts his 3
fellow musicians perfectly, too. (His youngest son, Buddy is the
percussionist and is following in his father's musical footsteps.) Ron
gets the needed musical sound from vocalists with wonderful projection,
diction and harmonic blending. This is tough music to learn but Ron does
it with ease. Bravo. The choreography is handled by Lisa Bergman and the
lighting is by Ron Allen with Melanie Estes as the light board operator.
(She is also the web mistress for Players so be sure to check out their
website.) Lydia Matteson runs a tight ship onstage and backstage as the
stage manager, always keeping the action flowing from one scene to the
next. She is ably assisted by Iain Lawson who also appears in the show
dressed as a sailor who becomes Todd's first customer and victim. 

The cast is lead by two outstanding performers who act as well as they
sing. Chris Schultz plays the mad barber, Sweeney Todd perfectly. He far
surpasses Len Cariou who played it on Broadway in the original production.
Chris possesses a phenomenal baritone voice which resounds throughout the
theatre in all his songs. He captures the mad desperation the role needs
and gives a splendid performance. The murders are spotted in a red light
and give the audience chills up their spines. Mrs. Lovett, his counterpart
is played excellently by Kathy Donahue. She has a gorgeous soprano range
but in this part uses her lower and middle range with resounding results.
Kathy, using a Cockney accent, sounds like a younger version of Angela
Lansbury especially in "Worst Pies in London" and "Poor Thing". She brings
a lot of humor to the show and portrays this slightly off center character
wonderfully. Kathy's duets with Chris, "Epiphany" and "A Little Priest",
when they finally realize what they need to do with the dead bodies are
hilarious. Kudos to both of them in these demanding roles.

The supporting cast do a great job in their roles, too. The chorus handles
several numbers including the continuous "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" which is
based on the "Dies Irae" the Roman Catholic mass for the dead and the
rollicking, "God, That's Good" which is like the "Om Pah Pah" number from
"Oliver". Dennis Bouchard and Maija Melbardis play the young lovers,
Anthony and Johanna who is Todd's kidnapped daughter. Dennis brings this
heroic character to life by saving the girl from the evil judge's clutches
and rescuing her from an insane asylum. He handles the soaring ballad,
"Johanna" and the pretty duet, "Kiss Me" with Maija. She plays the blond
ingénue with a soprano voice in her solo, "Green Finch and Linnet Bird",
the duet, "Kiss Me" and "City of Fire" with the chorus. Maija is a high
school senior who will major in theatre at RIC next year. The mysterious
beggar woman is played by Amy Thompson who displays her comic timing as
this insane creature who is really more sane than you think. She uses her
lovely singing voice in this role and she gains the sympathy of the crowd
in her final scene of the show when they finally find out who she really
is. Another comic performer is Jay Miscia as Toby. He first appears as the
assistant of another barber but soon is employed by Mrs. Lovett. Jay wears
a funny long wig which he takes off when she offers to feed him, leading
to much laughter. However his standout scene is when he wants to protect
Mrs. Lovett from the dangers of the shop in the poignant "Not While I'm
Around", my favorite song in the show.

The evil, horrible Judge Turpin is played by Jordan Cannady. He lusts
after Johanna and wants to marry her. He uses his strong voice in a duet
with Todd called "Pretty Women" which is about his disgusting behavior
towards this innocent girl. What a cad. His assistant in wrong doings in
this show is The Beadle played perfectly by Fred Kuhr who makes his debut
at Players but is no stranger to the stage. His strong singing voice sells
"Ladies in their Sensitivities" while he holds some notes out longer than
you'd think humanly possible. Fred's acting is topnotch as well especially
when he crushes a bird to death in his hands. Another slimy reprehensible
creature found in London. The third suspicious character is played for
laughs with Steven Dulude as Italian barber, Pirelli, complete with the
accent and handlebar moustache. He uses his high tenor voice in the
contest song where he sings operatically as he shaves his customer slower
than Sweeney. Later when he blackmails Todd, he becomes the first murder
victim of the night. Steven returns to the stage after a two year absence
and does it with a flourish. (He last appeared here in "Gypsy" but I
previously directed him in "Rumors", "South Pacific" and "The Sound Of
Music" elsewhere.)

Rounding out this talented cast is Robert Fearn, Rick Bagley, Tara
Beaulieu, Jim Brown, Eva-Maria Coffey, Marge Cook, Tommy Iafrate, Kathleen
McNiff, John Ricci, Joseph Sedlock and Diane When. So for an outstanding
musical production, be sure to catch "Sweeney Todd" at Players. You won't
be disappointed, just tell them Tony sent you. To become a member of this
theatre club call Lydia at 273-0590 or email her at  To learn more about Players visit their website at

 SWEENEY TODD (9 -16 May)
 The Players
 Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
 1 (401) 273-0590