The West Ends Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Having been a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim since being introduced to his music during A Levels (thank you Mr Hubble), the opportunity to see this hauntingly beautiful show live on stage was one not to be missed.
As it was Bekah's birthday last month, we felt a trip to the west end a few weeks ago to start the celebrations and to spend some theatre tokens was due. So off we trotted to Tkts Leicester Square (The Square is open again for those who have missed it during its refurb) where we purchased two £26 tickets.....front row, centre stalls :-) We knew we wouldn’t see everything from this angle, but the opportunity to see two fantastic performers up close was one we chose not to miss.
The two leads, Michael Ball of Les Mis fame and Imelda Staunton - Harry Potter's sinister Dollores Umbridge (....shiver) are both wonderful performers in their fields, but when we found that they would be playing Sweeny Todd and Mrs Lovett, our instant reaction was @what?#.
Despite our trepidation's, I have never seen a live version of the show (excluding the staged DVD versions we have on our shelf) and as I studied Music at The University of Chichester, situated right opposite the theatre where this version of the production was dreamt up and created last Autumn (Chichester Festival Theatre), I felt all would be fine - The theatre has a long pedigree of creating great shows and was certain this production would not let anyone down.
If Star Wars was reality (and before anyone says anything, in what remains of my teenage memories it does exist) I would be entitled to say that Michael Ball has had to take a giant leap into 'the dark side' to play this role. He portrays this character as a revenge seeking, love lost barber which surprised us from the start - considering his previous roles have included Marius (les Miserable’s), Caractacus Potts (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and.....*cough cough* Edna Turnblad (Hairspray), Sweeny Todd is definitely a complete change of character. His style of acting is totally different to what I expected and his sinister and incredibly well formed makeup really does add to his character image (especially as we were so close). If anything, this older Michael Balls voice is deeper and more powerful then I have ever heard it. He has succeeded in adding to the role substantially with some wonderfully powerful and forceful moments and did a wonderful vocal tribute to the part that has previously been played by such great actors/musicians (such as George Hearn, Len Cariou, Bryn Terfel and not forgetting Mr Depp - even Kelsey Grammer has had a go).
I have great love for Imelda Staunton and the way she portrays Mrs Lovett - who happens to be my favourite character in the musical. From the moment she enters the fray with her 'worst pies in London' song, she is the glue that encourages, develops and holds the plans together. Even though her voice is not spectacular, her acting skills made sure the moments she was on stage were extra meaning filled.
As with Sweeny, some great names of stage and screen have acted this part, most famously Angela Lansbury (murder she wrote and Mrs Potts!), Sheila Hancock (Famously on stage in Cabaret and Sister Act over recent years) and more recently Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter & Kings Speech).The role requires a strong, will-powered woman with a great deal belief and passion in the task ahead - this is something that Imelda Staunton has in reams.
In news on Characters - keep your eyes and ears open over the next few weeks when Jason Manford (comedian) takes over as the Pirelli (the fake Italian Barber) - Here's hoping he is as successful as Sasha Baran Cowen.
Over all, the performance was beyond all our expectations. We would, after careful debate on the train on the way home, have preferred to have sat further back in the stalls - don’t think my bank balance could coup. The performance has helped my love for Sondheim to grow and I honestly cannot wait for the opportunity to arise for me to see another live musical - here’s hoping its not a long wait.