Thursday, January 28, 2010

Theatre Review: CSFAC Sweeney Todd

Playing at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center until Feb. 14th.

The Space: I normally don't include this in reviews, but its a new space to me, and I just have to say something about it. First of all, it is in an Art Deco late 30s, early 40s style - gorgeous! Secondly, the entire building got a facelift about 4 years ago I guess, and the theatre was no exception. Apparently, we are talking billions of dollars here. The house itself is a pretty good size with only ground seating, but with a very nice rake. The stage is also not too big - not really a backstage unless you make one. The wings are also limited, and if the set wasn't so huge, I could probably tell you more about sightlines. The thing that does suck about this place is storage - specifically set storage. I haven't been able to wander around a bit, but apparently there is very little. Aside from that, storage is pretty good. Costumes has a couple of nice areas, and, if it wasn't such a mess, props would have a wonderful space too.
Back to the show:
Set: "Wow" is all I can say. I saw the space before it had the set in it and ooking at it then I could not believe they were going to be able to do it. With the help of taking out two rows of seats to build out, they managed quite well. It is a two-level set of course, with the core of it being stable. The top back is made to look like colored frosted glass - which is where Fogg's Asylum is played. To stage right via bridges is Turpin's area. Basically a door leading "in" to the house and a door into a room, which can be made into specifically Johanna's room by a skid with a sofa on it. Stage left up top is a door and a stairway. Top center is the barber shop Which has, obviously a hatch that can be removed for the uh ... "falls"
On ground level stage right is mostly entrances - 2 of them. this is also where the roving stair unit lives when it is not on stage. Taking up the center and to the stage left portion is the Lovett area. This is the wonder of the set. This is an area of three. There is a skid that can be re-set for either the parlor, or the pie shop. There are layers of wall options from the bakehouse with a small door for the "victim shoot," the street, the pie shop with a wooden door, and the parlor with a curtained doorway. Also, the side of the shop is a moveable wall that can either be closed for most of the show, or opened to be the wall and oven in the backhouse. It's terrible to describe, but really interesting to see.
What else you ask? Well there is the boat for the opening sequence (which, if you ask me is more of a pain that it is worth it for that 5 minutes or so. But its interesting enough). There is also the fold-up Pirelli's wagon. There is another wagon laden with fruit and such for the market bit, but I completely fail to see why that is needed for all the minute is on stage. Don't get me from, it looks good, but there really is no reason for it.
Painting wise, it is done very well. Their color mixing is spot on. Their stone work is amazing. The only problem I have is the floor. I don't understand why they didn't fresh black the floor. And for that matter, I don't understand why the crew didn't mop the damn floor for the first week or so. Sorry, bit of a pet peeve of mine. Can't stand dirty floors. Eventually they started cleaning every night, but I decided to go ahead and do it since I get there earlier than they do.
Oh yeah, forgot downstage. Dowstage left and right are two very tall pillars. I'm gonna go with 12'-14'. I'm not sure of the exact height. On top of those pillars are 2 spots. It's really neat to see, but I am kinda glad I was not one of the Spot Ops chosen to go up there. They have to wear harnesses and sit on little boxes, and from what I hear it is quite uncomfortable. But the pillars look amazing. They really do look like parts of brick archways. Smack dab center is a sectioned pit. There are three sections, with a two "bridges" seperating them on top. Down Center is the grave. At about 10 minutes to Top of Show they have two guys come out a dig a grave. I don't know what is used for dirt, but I was definately told that is was expensive and hard to find. This grave is on a lift, so that at certain times, they lower it a couple notches, which makes it look as though they are digging deeper and deeper. Nice effect. Then at the start of the show, the lift is dropped down completely, the "grave" is removed, and Sweeney makes his entrance in the opening when the lift is brought up - they also repeat it at the end with Sweeney and Lovett. Kinda creates a nice effect.
Props/Set Dressing: Normally I am quite picky about this, but in this case, I really don't have too much to say. Most everything works really well, looks appropriate and looks historically accurate.
* The rig up for the grinder looks a little thrown together, and too small, but it works well, and if it was a home instead of a business, it would have worked better. But the idea is good.
* For some reason I was delighted with what they used for the pies. I thought they would just make edible dough minus the fillings, but they were kind. They started off with Hot Pockets, which worked, but did look a little too much like what they were. Then they switched to Cutie Pie Fruit pies. Which worked wonderful as far as looks go. And the actors were happy too.
*I guess the only thing I have a problem with, and it is a big problem to me, is the chair looks like something out of the 1950s. They painted it back with red vinyl for the seat. Drives me crazy! I mean, I now that it is the center piece of the who second act, and you want it to kinda stand out, but this is terrible! I also get that vinyl is easily washable, and therefore is easy clean-up with the blood, but It doesn't fit at all!! I just want to go up there and recover and repaint the darn thing. Oh, it just irritates me!

Lights: Let me tell you, there are some sexy light ques. But there are also some problem spots. *Well, there are hot and cold spots that appear in certain ques that don't blend together like they should, and make for sore spots - as well as a couple really terrible follow ques with the intelligent lights. Seriously, you're watching a scene, and then a square of light comes shooting across the scene. Then flashes of color that look like a UFO appearence on the stairs just as the lights go down for a scene shift.
* The spots are also problems. There are four - the two in booth and the two on the pillars have completely different tones and intensities. And between the two in the booth, one is much brighter than the other. There is no consistancy. More often than not, two totally different spots will be up in the same scene and you have one person singing in a warm pool while the other is in a cold, crisp spot.
*Now, I don't really mean that I hate spotlights, because they can be really useful and appropriate in the right show, but they are also a real pain in the ass. I don't like the convention of "a person is singing, they need a spot" especially not in Sondheim's work where several layers of singing are happening at once and going on and off a character as they start/stop singing. Again, there are moments when it is incredibly appropraite, but most of the time they're just not neccessary.
*The moment of "My arm is complete again" is beautiful! An Intelligent light puts a small, cold spot on the razor, and then as the scene goes into the "Ballad," the spot opens up to include Todd as it fades out. Wonderful!
* "Ballad(s)" have the most interesting lighting. But there is not consistancy, which there should be something that ties them all together. (This could be a director thing as well.) Side light works well, as well as direct overhead light, but using the footlights is the best. Footlights are sexy!
* the lights flooding out of the grave is amazing, but more on that later.
* the final Ballad has a bit in there with purple (bordering on blacklight look) and red gobos of window pane shadows and cobbled streets. Again, another sexy light que. The overall effect is ravashing!
*The end of "Epiphany" is a gorgeous moment with light - all lights are down except for a orange spot right overhead of Todd - but it happens too soon. Rather than a gorgeous button to the song, they put it near the end of the song, right in the middle of one of his lines. It works, but it doesn't quite fit.
*There is a bit in "City on Fire" when the entire chorus runs out on stage with lanterns. It is a great idea, and if they toned down the enviromental light even more, that moment would be so much more effective.

Sound: Awesome! The sound engineer mixes a great a show. There has only been two incidences of slight feedback, and one of a bumping sound when Todd's mic fell out of his pack. He is also great at engineering the echo when Todd and Lovett are in the bakehouse. Runs so smooth, and you always hear the things you need to. The Design is amazing. Enviromental sound is perfect. Not too loud, but just enough so that occassionally you notice it. His mixed ques are brilliant. You never realize how important simple sound is until you hear really good ques. Although I will say that he really should have had a hand at a bird death sound. Without it, the Beadle killing the bird is a little unclear. The best/creepiest is the sound of pounding coming from inside the oven after Lovett goes in.
Costumes/Make-up: Overall brilliant. Everything looks period and appropriate. Again, only a few critiques.
*Turpin making a comment about what kind of gown Johanna is wearing doesn't work when she is not wearing that gown, and is wearing the same gown when he makes another comment later. Don't get me wrong, I love the costumes of this show, and I think the designer did a good job, but that is an incredibly obvious mistake there. But I will say that Johanna's dress and her wig are amazing! Just gorgeous!
*Pirelli goes to visit Todd without a coat or a hat. Now granted, I don't know a whole lot about fashion and outer wear in industrial England, but I do know that a dandy like that would not go out without a coat. Maybe without a hat, but NOT without a coat. It just looks odd.
*The blood work in this show is brilliant. I haven't been able to see the work myself, but it seems like it is done by packets hidden in neckties, scarves, and in the neck pieces of the barber sheets. They are opened by pressure from a pump. Quite effective. Depending on the wholes and how hard you squeeze you get a nice range from trickle to squirt to open floodgates.
*Now, I understand why this is the way it is, but there is still a problem. In the party scene at Turpin's place, the ensemble members are the guests, but they are dressed int their street clothes with capes and masks. The problem is that thier clothes are destressed and dirty - those are not the people that would be invited to Turpin's party. He dislikes those kinds of people. But like I said, I understand limits of costumes and limits of time to change. That is just mix of budget, people, and time limits. But the masks in that scene are amazing!
Acting/Direction: I'm going to combine these because I don't know which is to be praised/critiqued
*overall, the singing is amazing - no real weak link. Anthony, Johanna, and Todd really stand out as amazing. And no one else falls below "great" So, vocally, this show is incredibly strong. I especially LOVE the ending "Ballad." Seriously, it just rocks the air with it's intensity!
* the opening ballad ending is powerful. Basically, once the grave is out, Todd gets on the lift, bright lights flood from the hole, the lift is started up, and Todd "crawls" out of the grave. It's an amazing moment - BUT - the lights out of the hole is called too soon, there is a good couple of beats with empty light from the grave, which just tells the audience what is coming. It would be so much more effective if they would have planned for the lights coming up the moment his hand appears. It would freak out the people in the first row!
* the Beggar Woman is so effective at playing crazy without being ridiculus. She has a raunchiness to her character that is so great to see. The only thing I don't like is her death. It's too easy, there is no fight, she just sits there while he "preps" everything. Aside from that, she's great - And her parts in "City on Fire" are goosebump raising!
*Anthony is too quite amazing. His voice is fantastic, he has great comic moments and everything he does is believable. His heart and soul go into those "Johanna" parts. Everything he does and all of his reactions are genuine, not as silly as he is sometimes played, which makes him all the more funny when he does/says something funny.
*Johanna: amazing voice, great costume choreography. She's not as annoying in the part as some other people have played her, which is great, but she is too serious and too old. Johanna is supposed to be 16, and like it or not, the character has some of that teenage melodramaticness. It helps the character be believable. Our Johanna is just a little too mature from the beginning. There is no growth there.
*Johanna and Anthony work well together, but there needs to be more of the giddiness of first love. But I will say that their first moment together with the birdcage between them is just beautiful. It's a gorgeous picture!
*Lovett is amazing. Great voice of course. She has a wonderful balance of evil and hilarious. Although she needs more real "feeling" for Todd. Also, she has to understand action as implied by the script. If you sing about someone being "warm in my hands" you need to touch them by then. Also, you're supposed to see something happen, you should be onstage to see it.
* There is a shared problem between Lovett and Todd - I can't believe that they have an "understanding." There is no sense of the affair between them that Lovett talks about in By the Sea, which makes her seem a little on the pathetic side.
* Sweeny is powerful, but sometimes lacks at passion. Great voice. He does not discover things much as an actor either - he seems to expect everything, except for the one great moment when he learns that Tupin took Johanna. But sometimes I just want to shake him and say "FEEL DAMN YOU!" He is so controled, and I just don't think Sweeney is at all. He also needs to let other actors get thier laughs in. There are two moments when he bowls over a possible laugh section. Drives me nuts!
*Pirelli is good. Nice voice, but he has an annoying habit of spreading his arms out for every long note that he hits, which is a lot, and it gets a little silly.
* Toby is wonderful - great character work, physical presense, comic portrayal, and voice. Just rips your heart out when he sings "Not While I'm Around" and when he is screaming in the bakehouse.
*Turpin has got a damn powerful voice and presence. This character is a lot more believable than most of the old men that look and sound angry but somewhat feeble. This makes more sense to me. Although, I do think he is not as developed as he should be. He leaves you wanting more. I actually would love to have seen him as Sweeney Todd.
*ensemble members have some amazing character moments - I love watching them when they're being smart, but as always a couple that go in for corny.
* "Epiphany" needs more - it is the shit hit the fan moment - and it is good, but it is not up to the full potential.
* "Little Priest", "God That's Good", and "City on Fire" is so GOOD. Enough said, I leave it there - you can't understand unless you see it.
Other: A couple things that REALLY bother me - a LOT!
* This is a big thing with me: I do not think that a director should be in the show. At least, not in a significant role, and Certainly NOT in the lead. This is our case. The man playing Todd is the director. As far as I can tell, he is good at both jobs, but you can't do them both and have it work. There are so many moments where things are just wrong on the stage, and it would have been the director's job to see it, but you can't step off the stage and see the whole picture if you are part of it. There isn't even an assistant director! It just irks me. I'm not saying this is what the guy is, but it makes him look like a spot hog. It just doesn't work.
*Second thing: I guess I am spoiled in that I have worked with some very reliable people before. I'm not saying that these people aren't but it just doesn't seem that way. An SM should be able to trust her crew to know their business and not explain it to them everynight. I can understand confusion during Tech, of course, and during the first week of runs, especially if things change or you don't have a stable crew. But this crew is contracted for the full run, and this is going into the 3rd week of the show. Granted, I know you want to cover your bases and give reminders just to be safe, but this ridiculous. I'm not blaming any party, and I understand the "why," but it would be a much smoother show if everyone just knew thier business and knew it well enough to be do it on their own. I maybe a little bit of a hypocrit here, but the SM needs to just give stand-bys, Gos, and Stops, not long explanations.
Okay, so this is a little long, but hey, when you watch it every Thurs, Fri, Sat, and Sun for a couple weeks, you notice things more and have more of an opinion about it.

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