Joshua Sanders as Tobias Ragg; Meredith Arwady as Mrs. Lovett.
Madison Opera's winter production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street offers audiences a thrilling take on Stephen Sondheim's dark expansion of the musical comedy. The production is repeated at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7 and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 8 at Overture Center's Overture Hall.
Even after thirty-five years, Sweeney Todd still provokes. Its black comedy plot features murder and cannibalism. But its true theme is revenge -- and how an avenger becomes one of his own victims. This plot, fused with Sondheim's fantastically clever lyrics, showcases Sondheim's double-barreled genius.
Madison Opera has gone all out for this production. The musical cast is extraordinarily strong and consistent and includes singers pursuing operatic careers. Baritone Corey Crider was a formidable Demon Barber of Fleet Street, while Meredith Arwady played against him as the frenetic Mrs. Lovett.
Sopranos Jeni Houser as Johanna, the wronged barber's daughter, and Emily Pulley as the mysterious Beggar Woman, brought real vocal luster to their contrasting characters. Tenor Daniel Shirley was an appropriately ardent suitor to Johanna. Tenor Joshua Sanders delivered fine moments of youthful effusion as Toby. And, as rival barber Pirelli, tenor Robert Goderich offered high-flying feats worthy of Donizetti.
Following Broadway practice, the solo singers were wired for sound, which brought a little more artificiality than necessary.
The full cast and chorus, carefully trained by Anthony Cao, provided a striking delivery of the recurrent ballad-style commentary that knits the whole score together. And Madison Symphony Orchestra Maestro John DeMain coordinated the complicated score and the rear-stage orchestra with skill.
Director Norma Saldovar dealt unerringly with a work full of tricks and traps, and Joseph Varga's versatile single-set stage design recaptured the grim setting of the original 1979 Broadway production. Hideki Tsutsui provided sharply etched lighting, while Karen Brown-Larimore offered lustrous costuming.
Sweeney Todd is performed in English, but surtitles allowed the audience to savor Sondheim's wicked lyrical cleverness throughout the show.
Following the Madison Opera's stirring season opener -- Beethoven's great but rarely produced Fidelio -- Sweeney Todd represents another brilliant achievement for Madison Opera, one that delighted an enthusiastic opening night audience.