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Hawai‘i’ Opera Theatre’s 'Sweeney Todd' is a bloody success

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A murderous, singing barber has come to the Blaisdell Concert Hall. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is a grim and gory Victorian affair that promises to entertain – but don’t bring the kids to this one.

Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s latest offering, “Sweeney Todd” tells the story of Benjamin Barker, a man driven to the darkest of deeds by the loss of his family. He is assisted by Mrs. Lovett, a conniving pie shop owner. Tragedy — and plenty of high notes — ensue.

Despite the plot, “Sweeney Todd” isn’t an entirely gloomy show. Stephen Sondheim (of “Into the Woods” fame) did words and music, injecting plenty of black humor into the proceedings. It blurs the line between opera and musical theater, resulting in a story that draws you further and further in even as it shocks you.

The music is what many people remember about Sondheim, and the cast does him justice. Peter Kendall Clark made for an impressive Sweeney Todd, a bit stiff at times but his voice was always powerful and imposing. Clark had to portray both a relatable protagonist and serial killer, but pulled it off with relative ease. I was a bit less impressed with Buffy Baggott, who plays Todd’s partner-in-crime Mrs. Lovett. Her accent slipped noticeably many times and her decision to be over-the-top in one scene and realistic the next made for a performance that wasn’t convincing.

The supporting cast shone, in particular Rachel Schutz as Johanna and Kyle Erdos-Knapp as Tobias Ragg. Schutz’s acting added depth to her performance as the fragile and lovely Johanna, while her soprano soared with clarity and control. Erdos-Knapp nearly stole every scene he was in as naïve Toby, who just wants to find a decent boss. Jesse Blumberg and Jamie Offenbach were also standouts as Anthony Hope and Judge Turpin, respectively, with the latter drawing creepy comparisons to Judge Frollo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The Company, featuring several local voices, rounded out the talented group.

The orchestra provided just the right tone for the show and complemented singers’ voices nicely. The digital background was unnecessary but added a nice touch and costumes were standard period-piece clothing. One aspect I didn’t like was the set- those blocky bits of scaffolding were distracting as they kept being rotated.

I was lucky enough to catch a preview for the show, and so there were a few kinks still being worked out like faulty sound mixing and uneven set changes. Despite this, “Sweeney Todd” was an engaging, entertaining musical, one that will toy with your emotions and keep you guessing. You don’t need to watch the movie to prepare for the play – going in knowing nothing about the story is fine.

Don’t let the dark premise scare you away – this is a show that you’ll want to catch while it’s here.

Torch 4

The Good

Powerful, talented voices

Highly entertaining plot

Sharp tunes

The Bad

Distracting set pieces

Uneven acting from some of the leads

April 24, Friday, 8 p.m.

April 26, Sunday, 4 p.m.

April 28, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

All performances at the Blaisdell Concert Hall

Sung in English with English translations projected above the stage.

Approximately 2 hours & 40 minutes with an intermission

Box Office:

(808) 596-7858 or 1-800-836-7372

Mailing Address:

848 S. Beretania St.