“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,” as the opening lyrics entreat, and embark on an unusual theatrical journey.
Written in the 1970s, this Victorian tale of love and revenge overlays jokes and physical comedy with macabre murders to create its own genre, is playing through June 25 at Trinity Repertory Company.
On an innovative rotating square set – the last designed by the renowned Eugene Lee, who died in February, leaving Patrick Lynch to fulfil his vision – the “musical thriller” incorporates Stephen Sondheim’s cheeky lyrics and stellar performances by familiar and new faces.
Popularized in the 2007 movie with Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd is the pseudonym of a London barber sentenced, years earlier, to prison by the predatory judge eying his wife. Once he secures his barber tools from old friend Mrs. Lovett, he works to lure the judge to his chair.
The plan falters, and he and Mrs. Lovett scheme to support their businesses. Upstairs, he leans men back in his chair, slicing their throats and sliding them down a chute to her kitchen where she grinds them for meat pies.
At the same time, Sweeney discovers his daughter is set to marry the judge and he collaborates with a sailor to free her to marry him instead.
The story twists and turns like London’s back alleys, sweeping the audience along for alternating gasps and belly laughs. Sondheim’s words are masterful as the “demon barber of Fleet Street” story unfolds. Gems like “There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit; and the vermin of the world inhabit it; and its morals aren’t worth what a pig could spit; and it goes by the name of London” drag listeners into the eerie tale.
Director Curt Columbus, and Lee’s masterful set, which spins 20 or more times in the course of the production, enhance the established story, as does Erick Pinnick, the New York actor playing Sweeney, who credits the play with inspiring his theatrical career, yet they keep it fresh and edgy for newcomers.
The cast also demands rapt attention. From Pinnick’s powerful incorporation of emotions, from fury to wrenching despair, into Sweeney, to the chameleon Rachael Warren as Mrs. Lovett, to the powerful voice of newcomer Myka Cue as a beggar woman, to the sass of Kai Thomani Tshikosi as a scam-artist posing as an Italian barber – the show is steeped in talent.
Warren continues to amaze with the breadth of her skillset, launching into “The Worst Pies in London” with a voice that slips smoothly from gritty Cockney to sugary cadence. Her second-act performance of “By the Sea,” trying to cajole Sweeney into moving to the coast, is animated and augmented by comical hand gestures.
Pinnick, who stepped into the cast after Trinity company member Joe Wilson Jr. left for a city job, pours every ounce of soul into the role. His face is emotive — indignant and frosty, then crumbled with believable tears of sorrow. His low-octave singing voice adds to the chill factor.
Other cast highlights include Alexander Crespo-Rosario III, who steals a riotous scene about having a tooth pulled; Sophie Zmorrod’s surly Beadle Bamford; and the sweetness of Taavon Gamble’s voice as the love-struck sailor.
Sweeney Todd is a classic theatrical experience. To reserve tickets at Trinity, 201 Washington St., PVD, visit trinityrep.com.