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Talk Is Free Theatre Mesmerizes with Immersive Sweeney Todd

A Talk Is Free Theatre production of a Sondheim musical is not to be missed…

So I started my July long weekend by trekking down to the Neighbourhood Food Hub at Glen Rhodes Campus to take in their roving, immersive production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical based on the play by Christopher Bond tells the following story:

“Sweeney Todd, whose real name is Benjamin Barker, uses his new alias to resume work in his barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s struggling pie shop after being wrongfully sentenced to life imprisonment by the corrupt Judge Turpin. After swearing vengeance against the judge that tore his family apart, Todd and Lovett plot a unique plan that helps them both and leads them down a dangerous, thrilling path with deadly consequences.” - Synopsis from the TIFT website.

This clever production was directed by Mitchell Cushman, along with a strong creative team which included: Dan Rutzen (Music Director), Cameron Carver (Choreographer/Associate Director), Kathleen Black (Set and Properties Designer), Nick Blais (Lighting Designer), Laura Delchiaro (Costume Designer), Patrick Lynn (Production Designer), Joseph Taylor (Technical Director/Production Supervisor), Julia Howman (Head Technician), Crystal Lee (Production Consultant), Jeff Soucy (Stage Manager), Heather Bellingham (Assistant Stage Manager), Charlotte Peters (Apprentice Stage Manager), Meghan Speakman (Rehearsal Stage Manager), and Nate Bitton (Fight Director).

The cast was lead by Michael Torontow as Sweeney Todd and Glynis Ranney as Mrs. Lovett, as well as featuring Noah Beemer (Tobias), Tess Benger (Johanna), Joel Cumber (Ensemble), Gabi Epstein (Beggar Woman), Griffin Hewitt (Anthony), Cyrus Lane (Judge Turpin), Jeff Lillico (Pirelli), and Andrew Prashad (The Beadle).

As the show is closing it’s sold out run on July 3rd, this ‘review’ might have a few spoilers, which means I’m going to share some of the trigger warnings listed on the TIFT website for those of you not familiar with Sweeney Todd : Violence, coarse language, strong sexual content (no nudity), frightening scenes.

Photo by Roman Boldyrev

Before I discuss this production any further, I need to acknowledge the wonderful group of artists who guided us through the production. I’m not sure how to recognize them, as they wore so many hats. Let’s call them guides - but they were ushers, technicians, and performers during this three and a half hour production, and the experience would not have been possible without them. They were absolutely fantastic.

Sweeney Todd was captivating from start to finish. I have always enjoyed this musical, it’s one of my favourites in the Sondheim cannon, but this was my first time seeing it live, and honestly I don’t think I ever want to see it presented any other way. Talk Is Free Theatre gave us a unique perspective on a well-known story by inviting us into the production.

There was something so satisfying about chasing the performers through the building, up and down the stairs, through the sanctuary, to the basement, and more! In a way, it kept audience members more engaged in the story between scenes, as we were all on our toes from moment to moment, unwilling to miss even a second!

I am a sucker for anything site-specific, and the use of space for this production is unlike anything I have ever seen. I never would have imagined My Friends being sung in a small corridor, or Epiphany and A Little Priest performed in a church. It was masterful, breathtaking, and at times, wonderfully ironic.

I loved the level of audience participation in this production, it was just the right amount to make audience members feel involved and acknowledge the proximity without completely dissolving the boundary between those performing and those watching.

Obviously, Sweeney Todd is a show with dark themes, many of which are presented onstage. This is an odd sentence to type, but I liked the way the violence was presented; it was obvious what was happening to the characters, but it wasn’t used as an excuse for gore or shock value. I love this show, but as someone who doesn’t like horror, it was a relief to be able to experience the show without worrying about it.

Photo by Roman Boldyrev

The performances in this production were so beautiful and showcased the complexity of the characters in this story. Not to mention that on top of performing a very difficult show, these artists were literally running laps around the building!

Michael Torontow is the perfect Sweeney Todd in how he delicately combined Todd’s thirst for vengeance and the tragic circumstances which lead to his downfall. Glynis Ranney was a wonderful Mrs. Lovett, with sharp comedic timing and clever use of physicality. Tess Benger was a bright and curious Johanna, and Griffin Hewitt was a genuine and gentle Anthony opposite her. Cyrus Lane was a chilling Judge Turpin, with Andrew Prashad bringing clever nuance to The Beadle. Noah Beemer was a charming Tobias, and Jeff Lillico a delightful Pirelli. Gabi Epstien was a beautifully tragic Beggar Woman, and Joel Cumber was a joy to follow through the story.

This show is a marathon for each character, and each moment was presented with care and nuance. I was completely in awe with every individual performance, as well as each wonderful ensemble moment.

Every single person involved with this production did an impeccable job and should be so very proud of what they created. I genuinely wish I could have seen this show over and over and over again!

While I can’t tell you to go see this production as it has finished its sold out run, I can tell you this:

  • Never miss a TIFT production.

  • Always take the chance to see something presented in a new way!

This production of Sweeney Todd is probably the best thing I have ever seen as an audience member!

For those of you who didn’t see this incredible production, here is the trailer from the Talk Is Free Theatre website so you can enjoy a little sneak peek:

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