Review: Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (No Strings Theatre)

Productions like No Strings Theatre’s Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street make me realize how amazing Toronto theatre is and how easily you can walk into a small theatre with no expectations and be blown away by the hidden gem you find.

The magnitude of this production of Sweeney Todd at the Al Green Theatre shocked me. I was expecting a little show with a few actors and a simple set. What I got instead was a 22 piece live orchestra complete with a conductor; an ensemble cast of almost 30 actors; and a set that was so well designed it boggled my mind as to how they pulled this off.

Everything about this show is magnificent the moment it starts. The audience is transported to London’s impoverished Fleet Street in the 1840s with creepy street mongers and half-crazed beggars running wildly through the audience. The live music really sets the tone and amplifies every moment and fills it with emotion.

I’m very familiar with the Sweeney Todd movie starring Johnny Depp as I quite enjoyed it and have seen it twice. The play is so much better. The combination of the dramatic live music, the actors, the costumes, and the massive true-to-life set make the show bone-chillingly eerie from the moment it starts.

The show is so well casted and acted that it’s hard to believe that the average age of the actors is somewhere between 14 to 17 years old. The performances that stand out for me are Mary Askwith, who makes the perfect Mrs. Lovett, the hilariously flamboyant barber Pirelli played by Lucas LaRochelle and the super creepy, deranged beggar woman played by Kearyn Vos.

The singing in the show is top-notch and nobody missed a beat which was very impressive for opening night especially considering the number of performers and musicians. My show partner noticed that the actors always stayed in character, even during the intermission.

The coolest part of the show was the way they made set changes. The entire cast would rush onstage for a musical number and in the midst of all the commotion there would be stage hands somewhere in the background changing the set. This was done so discreetly that if you weren’t staring into the background to figure it out, which I was, you would have no idea how that happened.

Another noteworthy set feature was Sweeney Todd’s chair; it swivelled, leaned backwards and there was even a trapdoor in the floor for the poor victims to fall through. This was definitely impressive.

The only negative about the show for me was that my show partner and I both had trouble hearing some of the actors over the orchestra. The music completely drowned them out in places, which was a shame as they all had beautiful voices.

This show was everything you would want a musical thriller to be. The story is one that most of us already know. If you like darker comedies with a mystical air then you have to see this show. It will leave you feeling haunted; you’ll find yourself thinking about it longer after you’ve left the theatre.

Also a little word of caution, the show is three hours including the intermission, but rest assured it is worth every single minute.

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Photo credit to No Strings Theatre