Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (School Edition)
Actor's Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of The Kite Runner

Carter Giannetti, Zacary Nelson,
and Savannah Swiatkowski

Photo by Elise Stoffer
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (School Edition) at Actor's Youth Theatre is a bold and captivating production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's dark and bloody musical masterpiece. Despite the unconventional choice of material for a youth theatre production, the themes of injustice and human suffering resonate powerfully with the talented cast, and the material provides a rewarding challenge for the teens to depict the many demanding roles in the musical, resulting in a compelling and macabre theatrical experience.

Set in 19th century London and full of dark wit, the story follows the vengeful barber Sweeney Todd, who seeks revenge against the corrupt Judge Turpin for falsely imprisoning him and driving his wife Lucy to suicide. Once Todd returns to London, he discovers that Turpin now has plans to marry Todd's grown-up daughter Johanna. As he waits to get Turpin in his claws, Todd and Mrs. Lovett, who runs the seedy meat-pie bakeshop below Todd's barbershop, embark on a grisly scheme to dispose of his victims, leading to a chilling tale of murder and mayhem.

Sondheim's powerful score, adapted for younger performers with Sondheim's involvement, retains its richness and complexity. For the school edition, all of the soaring ballads, witty lyrics, and moving songs remain with only a few cuts, and there are a few changes to Wheeler's book. The score is one of Sondheim's trickiest, challenging even for professional theatre companies, and it's understandable that the AYT cast has a few moments where sustained notes aren't held or notes flat. Fortunately, the majority of the large cast navigate through the score with commendable skill and commitment.

Carter Giannetti delivers a commanding performance as the brooding and menacing Sweeney Todd, while Savannah Swiatkowski shines as the jolly and scheming Mrs. Lovett. Their chemistry is palpable, particularly in their dynamic duet "A Little Priest," which is a major highlight. Giannetti and Swiatkowski have very good singing voices and have no issue with the more challenging musical moments in the score. Giannetti's passionate portrayal is chilling at times, especially during "Epiphany," when he comes out into the audience, and Swiatkowski's sharp comic timing derives big laughs. They, like the rest of the cast, are fully invested in their characters and the two make a devilishly charming and believable couple.

Brandon Pusch brings a sense of self-righteousness to the role of Judge Turpin, while Katie Mullen and Porter Carr impress as the star-crossed lovers Johanna and Anthony. Carr's bright voice shines on his solos. Remington Wong brings a perfect blend of arrogance and authority to the role of Beadle Bamford, Judge Turpin's right-hand man, while Melissa Morazan delivers a beautiful performance as the haunting Beggar Woman. Saniya Sapakie shines as Pirelli, the flamboyant barber whose encounter with Todd sets off a chain of events. As Tobias, Pirelli's loyal assistant, Zacary Nelson has a strong connection to the character, particularly in his poignant duet with Savannah Swiatkowski on "Not While I'm Around." The large ensemble does good work throughout.

Director Kieara Kurtz-Williams effectively balances the show's dark themes with moments of comic relief, and derives passionate performances from the entire cast, although some scenes could benefit from more polished staging; the scene in which Todd is demonstrating to Lovett how his new barber chair will work is confusingly staged. Musical director Elise Stoffer elicits fairly rich and warm sounds from the cast, which is a wonderful accomplishment due to the somewhat challenging material, and Djuro Baich's choreographed movements add nice touches to the production. While Tom Miller's set design is minimal, it works extremely well and, along with the richly detailed costumes by Kurtz-Williams and Melissa Wong, enhances the atmospheric quality of the show, although the lighting on opening night suffered from some missed cues and the majority of stage left being frequently in the dark.

With consistently strong direction and passionate performances, Actor's Youth Theatre's production of the school edition of Sweeney Todd demonstrates that challenging material can be tackled with skill and maturity by young performers.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (School Edition) runs through April 20, 2024, for Actor's Youth Theatre at Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-907-7050.

Book by Hugh Wheeler
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Based on the play by Christopher Bond
Directed by Kieara Kurtz-Williams
Musical Director: Elise Stoffer
Choreographer: Djuro Baich
Set Designer: Tom Miller
Prop Designer: Meg Swiatkowski
Costume Designer: Kieara Kutz-Williams and Melissa Wong
Lighting Designer: Matt Stetler
Makeup: Cheri Lundgreen
Stage Manager: Rebekah Avila

Sweeney Todd: Carter Giannetti
Mrs. Lovett: Savannah Swiatkowski
Anthony Hope: Porter Carr
Johanna: Katie Mullen
Tobias: Zacary Nelson
Beadle: Remington Wong
Judge Turpin: Brandon Pusch
Pirelli: Saniya Sapakie
Beggar Woman: Melissa Morazan
Ensemble: C.J. Morazan, Brooklyn Crandell, Sadie Holdeman, Mattie O’Hagan, Holland Johnson, Audrey Williams, Ivana Kostur, Marina Kostur, Elliott Anderson, Kaylee Fowler, Azlinn Eberly, Campbell Carr, Ryan Lucas, Maddie Sue Miller, Harlow Quinn Miller, DJ Hammond, Emily Freedman, Archer Todd