Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Directed by Michael Weber. With David Girolmo, Rebecca Finnegan. Running time: 2hrs 45mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
It may seem odd—heretical, even—to describe a production of Stephen Sondheim's widely acclaimed 1979 Grand Guignol as okay. Yet Porchlight's new staging of the dark musical about the revenge-seeking Demon Barber of Fleet Street and his meat-pie-making helpmeet, Nellie Lovett, has a number of savory ingredients, but there's something off in the recipe.
The chief reasons to see this Sweeney are its two leads. Rebecca Finnegan, reprising the role she played in a separate Porchlight production a decade ago, eschews the cartoonish histrionics that are often associated with it (see Carter, Helena Bonham). Hers is the most grounded and credible take on Mrs. Lovett I've seen—sympathetic, even, despite her monstrous actions.
Her Mr. Todd, David Girolmo, also tends subtle, nicely painting a picture of an obsessive and inwardly focused Sweeney—which helps sell the always tricky turn that he should fail to recognize the Beggar Woman (well essayed by Kelli Harrington) as his long-lost Lucy despite multiple encounters. When Girolmo and Finnegan are alone together onstage, the show can be terrific, as in their lively rendition of Sweeney's best moment, the Act I closer "A Little Priest." Finnegan also shares some nice moments with Miles Blim, the Oak Park high schooler who capably portrays the young orphan Tobias.
Elsewhere, Porchlight artistic director Michael Weber's production is more uneven. Brian Acker and Stephanie Stockstill are in fine form vocally as the ingenues Anthony and Johanna, but they haven't yet found the depth of feeling that's required. Stockstill also has to deal with one of Weber's more awkward pieces of staging, standing atop a large stair unit that's wheeled around by ensemble members below as she sings "Green Finch and Linnet Bird." The move is just too big for the space; you find yourself worrying about the actor banging her head into a lighting instrument.
In large group scenes, Weber's staging feels crowded and ungainly, with that staircase and other large pieces being rolled on and off and around at every turn. And much of the ensemble is quite young and still a bit jittery—on opening night, two actors had jumped their beats before we were a minute into the opening "Ballad of Sweeney Todd," and many push too hard throughout. Surrounding the considered performances of Finnegan and Girolmo, they can make a murder ballad seem like overkill.