Is it a musical? Is it an opera? That question was buzzing in my mind, and surely the minds of many other people, ahead of the opening night of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Auckland’s Civic Theatre.
While produced by the New Zealand Opera Company, the production has been classed under many genres, with the general classification being a ‘musical thriller’. And, really, that’s all you need to know to enjoy and appreciate this classic production.
As with any NZ Opera production, the staging, costuming and lighting are all on-point. Here, the muted colours and simple set emphasise the dark and gothic nature of the show. It’s in stark contrast to The Magic Flute, staged earlier this year. The music is loud and spine-tingling – as it should be – and Steven Sondheim’s clever lyricism is definitely at the forefront. Particular highlights would be “A Little Priest” – the comic number that closes the first act – and “Johanna” – potentially the most famous piece from the show. The chorus do excellent work with the sinister “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” that bookends the show.
Casting-wise, it’s exactly quality you would expect from NZ Opera. Teddy Tahu Rhodes is menacing as Sweeney Todd and Antoinette Halloran has great fun with the livelier role of Mrs Lovett, Todd’s accomplice. The supporting cast all have their time to shine, and not even a microphone mishap was able to upset the vocals on opening night. The singing certainly expresses more than the acting, with some ‘Oceanic’ takes on the British accent and slightly wooden dialogue in the more dramatic scenes. However, it’s a opera/musical – so it’s only fair that the music and singing are the star, and they certainly are.
Sweeney Todd is probably my favourite NZ Opera production from the last couple of years. That could partially be my own bias for the dark tale, and the fact that it’s certainly more accessible than more traditional operas – but it could also be that it just has a strong sense of fun about it. It’s violent, dark and clever whilst also being filled with humour and some stellar performances.
Sweeney Todd is a menacing murdery tale that might leave you staying off the pies for a while, but not away from the theatre. Check it out while you can at Auckland’s Civic Theatre until 24 September.
Reviewed by Steward Sowman-Lund