By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
The Glens Falls Community Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd — it doesn’t just hit you in the gut, it reaches deep into the diaphragm to where you breathe. That is, if you remember to keep breathing through what is a breathtaking show.
Myself, I felt like I’d been rolled and battered in a burlap sack filled with dirt, that this was a good thing, and that what I wanted now, after the final curtain, was the biggest, richest glass of red wine the barkeep could offer. A dark porter may have served, too.
Pick any moment and the entire stage was a tableau in sepias punctuated with dusky purples, navy blues and bloody reds. Credit to director Avery Babson for the choreography of the whole thing (plus costumer Sherry Recinella and set designer Jason Wodicka for the look).
Leading a pack of fine and nuanced performances, top to toe, there’s Nate St. John in the title role and Camille West as his gleefully desperate cohort Mrs. Lovett.
But first, watch Jakob Mattice as impressionable young Tobias, center stage or reacting subtly from the side to another’s leading moment. Then you’ll understand the beauty of this production.
Watch any of the actors: They’re all “on face” throughout: Squirrelly, wily, innocent, lost, hungry, greedy. This is rich and real, dark and heartpounding stuff.
The story begins as the barber Sweeney Todd returns to a filthy industrial London after 15 years of false imprisonment. He was wronged by a lustful judge who proceeded to defile his victim’s wife and steal their infant daughter. Now Sweeney is bent on righteous revenge. But his passion leads to an end that only amplifies the tragedy.
This is not a show without its grace.
The score includes some beautiful songs (“Not While I’m Around,” “Johanna,” “Green Finch and Linnet Bird)” as well as humorous numbers, mostly centered on Mrs. Lovett’s grotesquely popular meat pies that conveniently hide the evidence of Sweeney’s barbarous razor.
They don’t play any of it soft, this company. Those ballads go by beautifully, yes, but with the raw edges showing. (One related imperfection: The orchestra could be better balanced to the voices.)
Mr. St. John gives the performance of a lifetime. I’m not sure how he could sleep after gutting out that tortured soul every night. Ms. West is his equal, funnier but desperate, always watching, eyes alert for the angle, a moment to rest. Paired on a bench near the end of the show they play it out, weary and wary, all between the lines.
Gisella Montanez plays rival barber Pirelli, what we’d typically call a “pants role,” with guttural conviction. The rest of the main company — Travis Brunell, Sara Curtis, Barbara Miner, Phil Phaneuf, Bill Howard: All soaring voices, equally powerful presence, good eyes and bad.
‘Sweeney Todd’ continues Friday to Sunday, Nov. 13 to 15, at the Wood Theater in Glens Falls. Box office: 480-4878.
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