From the very onset of the Paramount Theatre of Aurora’s “Broadway Series” many years ago, audiences discovered that they had a gem in this, the 2nd largest city in Illinois. Yes, far from the “Loop”, but Theater of the quality of that we see in “The Theatre District”! Thanks to Tim Rater and Jim Corti, a gem was created in Aurora and it continues to shine for theater audiences with their latest production, “Sweeney Todd”, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I would put this production on my MUST SEE LIST. In other words, find a way, any way to get out to Aurora for this production. From the curtain rising, showing us the set (Jeffrey D. Kmiec has done a three story set that is amazing), we know that we are in for a special evening of theater. The play, with a book by Hugh Wheeler and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (many say this is by far his greatest musical) is the story of “revenge” as Benjamin Barker, a skilled barber, has returned home after 15 years of being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. In order to gain revenge over the Judge that took him away from his family, he takes on the new persona of “Sweeney Todd” ( this role is taken on by Paul-Jordan Jansen, who is as strong a Sweeney as I have ever witnessed).
He is told that his wife had taken poison, and his daughter Johanna has been taken in by the same judge (Judge Turpin is deftly handled by Chicago favorite Larry Adams, who truly “brings it”), who intends to marry her. Sweeney opens a barber shop in the second floor of his friend, Mrs. Lovett (wonderfully portrayed by the adorable Bri Sudia), who owns the meat pie shop on the first floor. I do not want to give you all the details of this mystery, but Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett hatch a plan where Todd will have a shop above hers and when he is forced to dispose of people, she bakes special pies. Business flourishes (for both).
Johanna (Cecilia Iole has a charming personality and a lovely voice), and of course, does not know her father who has been away in prison most of her life. Anthony Hope (Patrick Rooney sparkles with his rendition of “Johanna”), who has befriended Todd, asks him for help in getting his young maiden, who is attracted to him as well, away from the judge. Another character of import is young Tobias (a solid performance by Anthony Norman ) who was the assistant to another barber, and becomes the apprentice to the baker, Mrs. Lovett.
There are lots of little stories contained within this structured mystery, including a beggar woman (great to see Emily Rohm back on the stage of the Paramount. What a vocal range with her “City of Fire”), who as it turns out is more that what meets the eye. Again, not wanting to spoil the overall effect director Jim Corti has put together, this is a masterpiece, and I am hopeful the Jeff Awards people realize just how special this production is! Not being a huge dance show, the choreography (by Corti) is fitting to the tale, but it is the direction and the use of this wonderful set that keeps us in focus for two-hours and thirty-minutes (one intermission).
The ensemble is key to a production such as this. Craig Underwood, Matt Deitchman, Harter Klingman, Julie Bayer, Nathan Maurice Cooper, Evan C. Dolan, Thomas Forde, Emily Glick, Emily Goldberg, Alana Grossman, Teresa LaGamba, Harriet Nzinga Plumpp, Matthew Thomas Provencal, Rob Riddle, Raniel Riley, Will Skrip, Jason Slattery and Abby Murray Vachon. These people bring all the pieces together taking on whatever roles are needed. Each costume change, personality change and movement is key in the story-telling of this epic tale!
On the technical side, Theresa Ham’s costumes are first-rate, the lighting (Nick Belley & Jesse Klug) pure artistry, sound (Adam Rosenthal), props (Amanda Relaford) and wigs and make-up (Katie Cordts) as good as one would expect in a theater much larger than this one. Corti and his staff do things right! The fight direction was smoothly handled by Ryan Bourque and Patrick Ham handled the special effects to round out the tech side. Tom Vendafreddo leads the Paramount Orchestra to make the great music of Sondheim, great. Musical numbers such as “Johanna”, “By The Sea”, “Not While I’m Around (one of my favorites) and the adorable “A Little Priest” (this is the number that ends the first act and is worth the price of the ticket on its own-Jordan-Jansen and Sudia show their chemistry on this one)!
“Sweeney Todd” will continue at The Paramount Theatre located at 23 E. Galena Boulevard in Aurora through March 19th (I would anticipate an extension on this one) with performances as follows:
|Wednesdays:||1:30pm & 7:00pm|
|Saturdays:||3:00pm & 8:00pm|
|Sundays:||1:00pm & 5:30pm|
Box Office: 630-896-6666
There is valet parking, street parking and a few lots. It is suggested that you do not park at the Casino.
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Sweeney Todd”