Thursday, November 26, 2009

Who's Afraid of the The Demon Barber of Fleet Street?

I'm not! I love it!!!

You might think I'm crazy for loving the character like Sweeney Todd.  For one, the story about a demon barber is not a tale you would like your children to bring with to dreamland.  If you look closely, Sweeny Todd has the theme that is frightening, horrible and certainly bloody.  And I am one of those who are not suckers for frightening stories.  But I have to confess, I would always asked for "what's next or what happened?" during ghost stories because I am fascinated by them as long as I'm not experiencing it.

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a bloody good piece of Stephen Sondheim.  Amidst its man-eat-man theme, it boasts of energy and unusual wit and humor.  It tells a story of a man who came face to face with the realities of the world, that in order to survive, one choses between being eaten or be the one who's doing the eating.

The bleak Sweeney Todd (Audie Gemora), like any other killer, was not born a murderer.  He was formerly Mr. Benjamin Barker, a young cheerful barber who is married to a beautiful maiden, Lucy, and have a baby girl Johanna.  He who owns a shop at Fleet Street.  But his joyous world crumbled when Lucy had caught the eye of Judge Turpin, the city magistrate.  Using his position and power, Judge Turpin exiled Barker to Australia on false charges had had Lucy to himself.

Fifteen years of exile had passed and Barker, now Sweeney Todd, returns to Fleet Street in the hopes of finding Lucy and Johanna. At Fleet Street, he found not his family but Mrs. Lovett (Menchu Lauchenco-Yulo), the meat pie shop owner just below his previous apartment.  Hearing Mrs. Lovett's rantings on how business wasn't going too well (with the song "Worst Pies in London"), Mr. Todd suggests to rent the the place upstairs for additional income.  Mrs. Lovett discourage telling him that the place is haunted, recalling how the previous tenant was shipped to Australia, and his wife got raped by Turpin and so poisoned herself and that their child is now at Turpin's custody.

After knowing all these, Todd cries in rage, which confirmed Mrs. Lovett's notion that Benjamin Barker is back and is the man she was talking to.  Sweeny Todd promised to take revenge against Turpin.  Practical as ever, Mrs. Lovett that Todd make a living and brought out his old set of razors, suggesting that he be a barber again.  Smiling like a mad man, Todd raised his old razors, his weapon of revenge (with the song "My Friends").

What better way to publicize your business but a competing against the famous in the business.  So at the market place while an Italian barber Adolfo Pireli and assistant Tobias Ragg were promoting a solution for hair loss (singing "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir"), Todd exposes the fraud and challenge Pirelli into a shaving and tooth-pulling competition.  He invited Beadle, one of Turpin's men as judge.  Fate must be good to Sweeney Todd, he won the competition, he gained the awes of the community gaining him customers and boosting his name as a barber at Fleet Street.

The tale of Sweeney Todd was concluded with piles of dead bodies turned into meat pies.  Yikes!

Adding romance to the plot is Anthony (Franco Laurel), an immigrant whom Todd met at the ship back to London.  He fell in love with all grown and beautiful Johanna (Lena McKenzie), Todd's daughter.

Amongst all the Repertory Philippines production I've seen, I would say this is one of their bests.  Costume and set design are extravagantly done.  The urban decay and struggle for survival is seen both in the design of the set and of the costumes.  The dresses are half rags-half traditional London dresses.  Women are in corsets, full skirts with layers of lace and velvet while the men of London are dashing in dingy vests, tainted shirts and old ragged shoes.  Props are also elaborate with the sliding barber's chair that transports Todd's victim to Mrs. Lovett's meat pie work area, along with the humongous oven that gives off an orange red glow suitable for making delicious sold out pies.

Voice quality of the cast was superb not to mention the musical extravaganza from the musicians headed by Gerard Salonga.

Of all the actors of the play the note-worthy ones are Menchu Lauchenco-Yulo who played Mrs. Lovette, Audie Gemora who played the serial killer barber, and who played Tobias Ragg.  Above all, each member of the cast owns my applause.

Sweeney Todd (The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) will run until the 13th of December, 2009 at Onstage, 2F, Greenbelt 1 in Paseo de Roxas St., Makati City.  Shows are every Friday and Saturday 8pm while matinee at 3:30pm are every Saturday and Sunday.

For tickets and inquiries, call Repertory Philippines at 887-0710, 888-0887 or Ticketworld at 891-9999.  Tickets are also sold just outside Onstage just before each play starts.

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