Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by The Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School in West Chester, PA
April 4, 2017
Review submitted by Marissa Emerson of Upper Merion Area High School
With a sinister story as satisfying as a fresh meat pie, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street struck again at PA Leadership Charter School.
Boasting a Tony Award for Best Musical, Sweeney Todd jolts audiences with its tale of a revenge-crazed barber in 19th century London. Seeking to kill the judge who wrongfully sent him to prison, Sweeney Todd partners with Mrs. Lovett, a local pie shop owner in need of a meat supplier. With a score by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, this show is no small undertaking for any theater, let alone a high school troupe with two rehearsals a week!
With hollowed faces painted with shadows, the ensemble haunted audiences with their commanding sound. Though their occasional lack of diction left lyrics lost, the cast’s impeccable volume and razor sharp harmonies sliced the air in a most impressive fashion. Truly shining in “City on Fire,” the ensemble fearlessly played hair pulling and face twisting insane asylum patients.
Benjamin Powell took on the role of the ungodly barber himself with robust vocals and a confident posture. By his side was Grace Slear as Mrs. Lovett. With a performance that was as savory as the meat pies she baked, Slear served everything from jocose, bit-size puns in “A Little Priest” to delectably smooth vocals in “By the Sea.” Slear’s accent and inflection paired with her expressive face and fluid body language made her an excellent storyteller with a true future in professional theatre should she choose it.
Neil Devlin (Anthony Hope) and Ashley Lennick (Johanna Barker) played infatuated lovers in unfortunate circumstances with excellence. The pair played off of each other well as Lennick’s pleasant tone and wanderlust smile created a lovely chemistry with Devlin’s warm vibrato and charming, kind eyes. Standout Taylor Ruffo (Beggar Woman) showed off her vocal prowess and impressive duality in psyche while the lovable Shane Troxell (Tobias Ragg) played up an innocent, curious nature in the most endearing way.
Opening the show with fog, a train horn, and the cast bathed in red light, the tech team outdid themselves in setting the tone. The set was simplistic yet versatile, serving as a platform on which cast members did heart-stopping trust falls after being slain by the infamous barber.
Strongly cast and masterfully performed, PA Leadership Charter School’s production of Sweeney Todd was a delightfully death defying display of the dramatic arts.
Review submitted by Sam Spirt of Upper Dublin High School
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,” actors demand of us, as they creep onto the dimly lit stage. Any musical lover would recognize the eerie graveyard scene at the start of PA Leadership Charter School’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Set in 19th century London, the musical tells the story of evil barber Sweeney Todd and his quest for revenge against Judge Turpin, who banished Todd to prison for fifteen years and kidnapped his daughter. Upon return to London, Todd teams up with pie maker, Mrs. Lovett, and together they make delicious meat pies using their secret ingredient: the flesh of Todd’s murdered customers.
The actors were convincing in their performance of the disturbing musical, sending chills up audience members’ spines. A delicious mixture of realistic technical effects and dedicated performers allowed for a thrilling production.
With strong vocal technique and commitment to his layered character, Benjamin Powell led the cast as title character Sweeney Todd. Alongside Powell was the hilariously charming Mrs. Lovett (Grace Slear), whose vocals shined in the particularly difficult role. The two complimented each other beautifully, creating an entertaining duo, especially in numbers such as “A Little Priest.”
Neil Devlin and Ashley Lennick were also standouts in their portrayals of Anthony Hope and his love interest, Johanna. Both had extremely impressive singing voices, and added depth to the plot. Another memorable supporting character was Tobias Ragg, played by Shane Troxell. Troxell’s acting abilities were exceptional for a high school performer. Lastly, Taylor Ruffo gave a passionate performance in the featured role of Beggar Woman with her top-notch voice and notable character development.
The talent among the lead actors was supported by a spectacular ensemble. PALCS’s large cast created pleasant harmony, which was especially impressive in such a vocally difficult musical. Each actor had clear individual character, while still managing to be a part of a larger group, taking the production to the next level.
The actors onstage were properly accentuated by various technical elements. Lighting design by actor John Viggiano properly captured the chilling mood of the show, adding to the quality of the production. In addition, Tirzah Badders’ efforts in makeup and hair were admired, as the show requires difficult looks for several characters.
Sweeney Todd is a demanding musical, but PALCS’s production proved that young actors and technicians can tackle and deliver even the seemingly impossible challenge of a Sondheim score.