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Onyx Theatre’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ makes terror terrifically funny

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A gruesome musical in the back of a sex shop at Halloween? Yes, please!
Molly O'Donnell

The Details

Sweeney Todd
October 19-21 & 26-28, 8 p.m., $20-$25.
Onyx Theatre, 732-7225.
Four stars

Most people are only familiar with one song from Sweeney Todd—“God, That’s Good!”—and the cannibalistic musical’s opening night at the Onyx Theatre proved to be just that. Although the house was only three-quarters full, the cast, crew and “orchestra” (a string quartet and keyboardist) received a well-deserved standing ovation for their efforts.

Director Brandon Burk opened the show—the first in Off-Strip Productions’ new Affordable Broadway Series—with a word of thanks to those who helped him stage the ambitious production. Admittedly, it seems hubristic to attempt a Broadway musical in a theater the size of a stock room, with the acoustics to match. Plus, the play is one of the most celebrated pieces of theater of all time, not to mention a not-half-bad Johnny Depp movie. But Burk and his comrades made good on Stephen Sondheim’s original hope that the work be intimately staged.

Chris Mayse’s portrayal of the demon barber of Fleet Street was completely convincing, hitting the necessary lows of grave passion and the highs of the play’s devilishly hilarious moments. The audience went wild as he cocked an eyebrow, flashed a crooked smile and sent his first victim sliding toward the cookhouse. Mayse’s partner in crime, Kellie Wright, deftly handled the role of Mrs. Lovett, the play’s most ruthless and most hilarious character. It takes a skilled actor to handle both the fool and the villain. In fact, the entire cast did such a fine job treading that line between terror and farce, it was difficult to detect any faults.

The only real problem with this production seemed to be the spotty attendance. Hopefully, people will get wise and treat themselves to a surprisingly good production of a unique musical. ’Cause if you can’t catch a play in the back of a sex shop at Halloween time, when can you?

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