In 1979, when composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim set the macabre tale of a vengeful, murderous barber to music, he was years ahead of such similarly gruesome stage fare as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Carrie.”
Initially off-putting to many, “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” has since been recognized as a enduring classic of the musical theater and is arguably the most mainstream selection ever from the adventuresome Slow Burn Theatre Company.
Nevertheless, it certainly gets the creative juices of resident director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater flowing and it inspires his co-artistic partner Matthew Korinko to give his best, most intense performance yet in the title role.
Slow Burn seems to thrive on challenges like those presented by Sondheim’s intricate lyrics and near-operatic score, but the non-union cast — many of them new to the company — makes it sound easy. If you have not yet discovered this resourceful little troupe, this is the production that will turn you into a devoted fan.
Even with a band of only six musicians, under the deft hand of conductor-keyboardist Manny Schvartzman, this is a brawny and often quite witty score, which should surprise those who only know the material from Tim Burton’s truncated 2007 film version.
As the mentally unhinged Todd, Korinko brings a brooding presence and a rich, deep singing voice, most notably in his most unhinged moment (“Epiphany”). And leave it to Sondheim to follow that up with a darkly comic waltz (“A Little Priest”) in which Todd is persuaded by his adoring landlady, Nellie Lovett (a solid, if occasionally shrill Karen Chandler), to bake the bodies of his customers — the practice victims while waiting for his real quarry, the crooked, lecherous Judge Turpin — into meat pies.
Besides this difficult material being done so well, Slow Burn performs the score in its entirety, including a tooth-extraction contest and Turpin’s sado-masochistic solo to Todd’s daughter Johanna — numbers that are often omitted for reasons of time or taste.
Fitzwater brings back Kaela Antolino, one of his discoveries from “Side Show,” showing off her lovely soprano voice on “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” as empty-headed Johanna. His latest find is Bruno Vida, a Boca high school student in his professional debut as Tobias, the hair tonic shill who comes to assist Mrs. Lovett in her increasingly successful bake house. Also an asset is the ensemble, dressed in goggles and gear (by costumer Rick Pena) that pays homage to the steam punk literary movement, singing the edgy, Brechtian “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” that wends throughout the evening.
As usual, Ian T. Almeida supplies an intricate scenic design including a tonsorial parlor above a pie shop, all on a manually operated revolve. It would be impressive enough that cast and crew do all this first-rate work, but particularly so that they do it for only a two-weekend run.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
Where: Slow Burn Theatre Company at West Boca High School, 12811 W. Glades Road, Boca Raton.
When: Through Sunday
Tickets: $35. Call: 866-811-4111.
The verdict: Sondheim’s intricate, melodic and macabre thriller, produced with affection and care by director Fitzwater, with a standout performance by Korinko in the title role.