A hit at the Chichester Festival last year, this new production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical ‘Sweeney Todd’, starring Michael Ball, Imelda Staunton, Jason Manford (covering as Pirelli for a month), John Bowe, Peter Polycarpou, Gillian Kirkpatrick, Lucy May Barker, Luke Brady, and Jason McConville, looks sumptuously high-budget and lives up to the hype which followed it to London.
Ball is a gifted musical tenor with many leading roles to his name including Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, Marius in Les Miserables, Giorgio in Passion. Here, in a role written for a singer with a lower register, he acquits himself well and seems to relish playing a multi-faceted villain, with mad delight in dispatching his customers to the bakehouse below, as well as being a good comic foil to the slightly desperate Mrs Lovett (Staunton, who is excellent in a role still associated firmly with Angela Lansbury).
Elsewhere in the cast John Bowe misfires a bit as Judge Turpin – he’s a fine actor, but not right here, and certainly no singer. Polycarpou however, himself a veteran of many musicals, notably Miss Saigon, is delightful as the Beadle, particularly in the Tower of Bray sequence, where the Beadle, Mrs Lovett, and the hidden Toby make a funny, if bleak, trio. As Toby Jason McConville is convincing and acts his part very well, especially in the final scenes.
For me, the character of Joanna always seems to be a weak link, and here is no exception. I don’t think there is any way to save a song about a Green Linnet, and Lucy May Barker’s soprano is just that bit too high at points – although in her favour she does exude the right amount of innocence and desperation as her situation becomes clear to her. Luke Brady is a fairly impressive Anthony, while Gillian Kirkpatrick’s pivotal role is beautifully played, making her heartbreaking at the conclusion.
The previous production I saw of Sweeney Todd was at the Oldham Coliseum, starring Emile Belcourt in the lead and directed by Paul Kerryson. I’ve had happy memories of it ever since. This new Todd has had money lavished on it to make it more of a spectacular – the set is on three levels and also has a section which moves out to stage front, and also uses trapdoors to good effect – and it will remain in my memory for a long time. As for Michael Ball, I look forward to seeing him in many more challenging roles as he goes into the peak years of his career, no longer a juvenile lead.