In November 2018, Curtis Opera Theatre presented the great American Opera: Sweeney Todd! This chilling masterpiece by Stephen Sondheim crosses the boundaries between opera and musical theatre, demanding virtuosic singing, powerful acting, and total dedication to the story and music.

Photos: Ken Howard

 

After being exiled for fifteen years on false charges, Sweeney Todd (Vartan Gabriellian) returns to London, hoping to find the wife and daughter he left behind. In his old neighborhood Sweeney encounters Mrs. Lovett (Amanda Lynn Bottoms), owner of a dismal pie shop below the rooms where Sweeney once lived under his real name, Benjamin Barker. Mrs. Lovett reveals that she remembers Sweeney from before his exile, and that she saved and hid away his shaving razors to await his return.

 

Outside, a crowd gathers, as the youngster Tobias Ragg (center, Martin Luther Clark) brags about the magical powers of a "miracle elixir" for hair growth created by his boss—another barber, Pirelli.

 

Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett see through Pirelli's fake remedy. Sweeney challenges Pirelli (left, Dennis Chmelensky) to a shaving contest to see who is the better barber. Pirelli boasts about his skill, but Sweeney sets to work and wins handily.

 

Meanwhile Sweeney’s young friend, the sailor Anthony (Aaron Crouch), has fallen head-over-heels for Johanna (Sage DeAgro-Ruopp), a young woman he first heard singing through an open window. In a strange coincidence, Johanna is actually Sweeney Todd's lost daughter from before his exile. In order to see Johanna again, Sweeney agrees to help Anthony win her heart.

 

The cruel Judge Turpin (Adam Kiss), who originally exiled Sweeney from London in hopes of seducing his wife, has adopted Johanna as his own child and kept her locked away from the world. Disturbingly, the Judge announces that he plans to marry Johanna, and with his henchman, Beadle Bamford (Colin Aikins), heads to Sweeney Todd's shop to get a shave from the best barber in town—unaware that he is visiting the man he once deported.

 

Sweeney is thrilled when the Judge arrives unexpectedly, giving him a chance to get revenge. But when Anthony shows up at the shop, the Judge recognizes him as Johanna's suitor and storms off, leaving Sweeney enraged at missing his opportunity to kill the Judge.

 

Rival barber Pirelli, who has recognized Sweeney as Benjamin Barker, visits and attempts to blackmail him. Sweeney kills Pirelli to keep his cover ... and then Mrs. Lovett hatches a gruesome plan to dispose of his body as meat in her pies.

 

In the second act, business is booming at the pie shop, but Sweeney still seethes with rage and longs for a chance to kill the Judge in revenge.

 

Eventually, bodies begin to accumulate (represented by customers who, after a “shave,” make their way in blood-red pajamas one by one below the elevated stage) as Sweeney kills more and more victims. He finally gets his chance to kill the hated Judge Turpin.

 

In a final, heartbreaking twist, Sweeney kills a beggar woman (Lindsey Reynolds) who has been harassing the shop ... only to realize that the woman is in fact his long-lost wife, who he had presumed dead.

 

Discovering that Mrs. Lovett has lied to him about his long-lost wife’s fate, Sweeney kills Mrs. Lovett in a rage. The horrified Tobias, who has discovered the truth about the demon barber, kills Sweeney and ends his reign of terror. The departed cast members appear to rise from the dead to sing of the tragedy the audience has just witnessed.