The Manatee Players shine in this Sondheim favorite.
By Kay Kipling
Despite his long career, many awards and universal recognition in the theater world, Stephen Sondheim is still not everyone’s cup of tea. (I’ve seen audience members leave one of his shows at intermission.) Performers themselves tend to love his work, however, and local productions always bring out some of the strongest talent in the area.
That’s the case with the Manatee Players’ (www.manateeplayers.com) Sweeney Todd, the dark, grimly funny tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street. Director Rick Kerby has assembled an outstanding cast and supported them with able musical direction and effective scenic, lighting and costume design. Then he’s staged the whole show with a keen eye and ear for Sondheim’s style.
Those who saw last season’s Bat Boy will recognize some familiar faces, including Steve Dawson, who has the title role here. It’s a chance for him to show depth and breadth beyond much of what he’s played in the past; he’s both appropriately creepy and sympathetic as a man bent on revenge for the loss of his freedom and his family years earlier. He’s matched every step of the way by Dianne Dawson as Mrs. Lovett, the pie-baking widow who has an eye for him. When these two characters’ pathologies finally fully coincide at the end of Act I with a song extolling the virtues of those curiously successful meat pies, it’s a moment to remember.
While these two lead the cast, they’re well abetted by Justin Clement as a sailor who falls in love with the daughter who was stolen away from Sweeney (Grace Gibbs), Rolfe Winkler as the pathetic young lad who seeks in Mrs. Lovett a mother figure, and a well-balanced (both physically and vocally) ensemble filling those dark streets of Victorian London.
I could say more about Sweeney Todd, but that would only take up time you should be spending getting your tickets (if you haven’t already), since the show ends Oct. 29. Call 748-5875, and be prepared for a Halloween treat.