With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy/Dramatic Criticism, Alyssa Dyksterhouse has over 20 years of professional theater experience. She recently returned from the living in the Pacific Northwest where she wrote about arts and culture for Seattle Weekly and Seattle Gay Scene.
Pictured: Bri Sudia and Paul-Jordan Jansen with the ensemble of SWEENEY TODD. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Review: SWEENEY TODD at Paramount Theatre
By Alyssa Dyksterhouse
I hold very few things sacred, yet, SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET rises to the ranks. Over twenty years ago, I saw a production that transformed me into a musical theater lover. Since then I became a connoisseur of this delectable dark tale. Therefore, I gleefully took public transportation from Chicago to Aurora hungry for some scrumptious Sondheim knowing Paramount Theatre’s production would be either awful or awe-inspiring. Luckily, it serves up one of the best shows I have seen in years. Just terrific.
This tale of a barber who murders his clients while his accomplice gets rid of the bodies by turning them into meat pies explores themes of justice and vengeance whilst incorporating Sondheim wordplay. For those unfamiliar with this masterpiece it might not sound like and appetizing show; however, I left the theater thinking, “God, that’s Good!”
The moment the curtain rose—revealing an unsympathetic set consisting of tri-level scaffolding and cages—I got chills. The lights came up introducing the chorus and by the culmination of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” I knew this exquisite experience would leave me sufficiently sated.
Under the direction of Jim Corti, this entire ensemble each earns a paragraph of praise. Sweeney Todd (Paul-Jordan Jansen) has a voice to rival Len Cariou and George Hearn while bringing a likability to a role that can be played overly broody. Mrs. Lovett (Bri Sudia) conveys a complexity to a character who is sometimes construed as cartoonish. Together the pair deliver a buffet of deviousness with a side of verbal gymnastics and friskiness, most notably in the Act One finale “A Little Priest.”
I usually find the romantic sub-plot between Johanna (Cecilia Iole) and Anthony (Patrick Rooney) annoying but this time I found myself rooting for them.
Likewise, the design and tech enhance this theatrical experience. Jeffery D. Kmiec’s set is as massive as it is imaginative and utilitarian. While Nick Belley and Jesse Klug’s lighting design delivers a show in and of itself. The elements work in sublime tandem when a counterweight system lowers the infamous chair while the lights create a highly sensory sizzling effect in which you can almost smell burning flesh.
Calling SWEENEY TODD a slasher musical diminishes the more universal appeal. We all have a dark side and this show serves as a cautionary tale about acting out in blind rage in honor of revenge and justice because in doing so we might destroy the very thing we cherish most. Looking at current events we would all benefit in heeding from this lesson.
In Chicago, we are blessed to have a plethora of pleasurable theater; yet, occasionally, a production procures the position of heavenly. Paramount Theatre’s SWEENEY TODD is one of those shows you will regret missing. Take the time to treat yourself to a few hours of theatrical bliss.
SWEENEY TODD runs through March 15th. For more information visit paramountaurora.com.
To see production photos of SWEENEY TODD click here.