Elizabeth Loos & Landon Sholar in Sweeney Todd. Photo: DDP

Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Book by Hugh Wheeler
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Based on a play by Christopher Bond
Directed by Lee Buckholz

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Who would have ever thought that a lurid and rather sleazy tale from the Penny Dreadfuls of the nineteenth century would be the inspiration for what might be the masterpiece of Broadway’s greatest composer?

Way back in 1846, an unknown writer wrote the serialized novel The String of Pearls, transcribing the shocking and gruesome adventures of one evil barber named Sweeney Todd. This tonsorial maniac would rob his customers, slash their throats, and cleverly dispose of their bodies: his equally looney next-door neighbor Mrs. Lovett would bake them into her meat pies! 

The tale became so popular that it has since inspired plays, radio shows, comic books, and movies. One particular play, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond, dared to try and make Todd sympathetic. Taking inspiration from The Count of Monte Cristo, Bond gave the barber a much more interesting back story: as a young man, an evil judge raped his wife, kidnapped his daughter, and sent him to jail for life. After many years he escaped, swearing vengeance on the judge. When his first attempt to kill the judge fails, his mind breaks and he vows to punish mankind instead. Taking up with nutty Mrs. Lovett, a serial killer is born.

Bond’s version caught the attention of legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, who reteamed with his A Little Night Music librettist Hugh Wheeler and turned the play into a musical. It opened on Broadway in 1979 and was a major success and has been revived many times since, including a Tim Burton-directed film version in 2007.

Derby Dinner has finally brought this gem of a show to their playhouse, and it is simply an amazing production. Performed with gusto by an amazing cast, this is the kind of tale of “sound and fury” the Bard was speaking of!

Landon Sholar gives a gut-wrecking emotional performance in the title role, and his beautiful singing voice gives all of his numbers a bigger heart. Elizabeth Loos is perfectly cast as the dotty Mrs. Lovett, copying neither Angela Lansbury’s ditzy original invention nor Helena Bonham Carter’s intelligent and evil one. She makes the character her own and goes for the comedy. (The two roles are also played by Blake Graham and Jillian Prefach Baker in swing performances).

Paul McElroy is in fine voice as Anthony Hope, a young sailor who gets caught up in the madness, and Harli Cooper as Sweeney’s long-lost daughter Joanna is a lovely thing to behold. Mitchell Lewis’s portrayal of Tobias Ragg, Mrs. Lovett’s helper, is a vision of tragic innocence, and his rendition of the song “Not While I’m Around” is a heartbreaker. Patrick Cogan is fine as the evil Judge Turpin, but his villainous turn is almost overshadowed by Marc Christopher’s slimy Beadle Bamford.

The rest of the cast is equally fantastic in all the other roles, and the whole thing zips along thanks to strong direction from Lee Buckholz and some truly beautiful choreography from Heather Paige Fulsom.

The set design by director Buckholz nicely evokes 19th-century London, but there were a couple of set pieces that blocked the audience’s view during a couple of crucial moments. Alexa Holloway’s lighting design is suitably shadowy and eerie, perfectly suited to the proceedings.

This is by far the best production of the show that I have seen performed locally and the best thing I’ve seen at Derby Dinner in years. Attend the tale!

Featuring James Alexander, Dick Baker, Jillian Prefach Baker, Andrew Bittenbender, Clayton Bliss, Sara King-Bliss, Trent Everett Byers, Marc Christopher, Patrick Cogan, Harli Cooper, Brittany Carricato Cox, Blake Graham, Mitchell Lewis, Elizabeth Loos, Jeff Hines-Mohrman, Carly Riggs, Kaitlyn Sage, Robert Sharkey, Landon Sholar, Robbie Steiner, Phil Thomas, Rita Thomas, Kiersten Vorheis, & Katelyn Webb.

Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

February 21 – March 31, 2024

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.