Lyric Theatre's powerful production of 'Sweeney Todd' scratches surface 

Among Stephen Sondheim's most popular musicals, the Gothic masterpiece "Sweeney Todd" tells the dark and twisted tale of barber Benjamin Barker, who is wrongly imprisoned and separated from his family by the corrupt Judge Turpin.

After escaping from jail, Barker returns to London under the assumed name of Sweeney Todd, only to learn of his wife's death and that his daughter, Johanna, is now the ward of Turpin, leading Todd to vow revenge. Assisted by Mrs. Lovett, the proprietor of a meat-pie shop, Todd sets about his bloody business to lure the judge and cut down anyone that gets in his way. At the same time, Anthony Hope, a sailor who saved Todd's life, falls in love with Johanna, and conspires with Todd to free her.

In the title role at Lyric Theatre, Broadway actor Jeff McCarthy may wear Todd's skin, but rarely did I ever feel that he was truly possessed of the spirit of the demon barber. Musical theater is often forgiving and, at times, even encouraging of heightened performances, but McCarthy descends into the realm of soap opera-style melodrama, actually eliciting chuckles from a few audience members at the reviewed performance during the decidedly not-funny final scene.

Known for roles in "Urinetown," "Chicago" and "Beauty and the Beast," it's not hard to see that McCarthy would be great in lighter fare. While serviceable, he fails to convincingly portray the haunted and heartbroken darkness within Todd. To his credit, he's got a great singing voice; during some of the musical numbers, he comes close to selling Todd's darkness.

In contrast, Emily Skinner is delightful as Mrs. Lovett. A Broadway actress from "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Jekyll & Hyde" and "The Full Monty," she strikes a perfect balance between Lovett's lovable black humor and deplorable amorality. If only this musical were "Mrs. Lovett: The Demon Baker of Fleet Street," I could endorse it wholeheartedly.

The supporting cast is filled out with some strong performances. Christopher J. Deaton plays Hope with the right amount of naivety and love-struck conviction, but without ever coming off as a fool. As the Beadle, Roland Rusinek brings an interesting dimension to the character. Also making a good impression is Jimmi Kilduff as Tobias Ragg, the kindhearted waif.

As the only local actors with speaking parts, Kris Todd and Caitlin Wees are both good in their limited roles. As the Beggar, Todd has some great moments early on propositioning the very straight-laced Anthony.

Definitely worth the money if you've never seen the show live, Lyric's production of "Sweeney" gets a lot right, but falls short of greatness. 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street stages at 7:30 p.m. today-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday at Lyric Theatre, 1727 N.W. 16th.

"?Eric Webb

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