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Todd’s last shave, is also Theo Ubique’s last book musical at No Exit Café.   For those who do not know the harrowing story of the ‘demon barber of Fleet Street’, it’s truly frightening.  In true Victorian, gothic, style.  Stephen Sondheim’s musical captures the gory delights of a macabre morality play.  It’s a romp that artfully delivers social commentary, humour, enshrined in the hope and despair by those who are forced to do the unthinkable. 

Director, Fred Anzevino, reaches for the heights and depths in this production.  Calibrating the stage to maximum effect, the audience are inside and outside of the action.  The pervasive troubled spirit of Todd permeates the modest No Exit Café of Rogers Park.  An area, known for its own troubles, provides a perfect backdrop for Hugh Wheeler’s penny dreadful tale of revenge.

If you have seen the movie with Johnny Depp commanding the role of the butcher and directed by none other than Tim Burton, you will find the live version more of a vibrant spectacle.  Anzevino’s large cast powerfully connects with the audience, as they glide, lunge, crawl between the cavities of this small venue.  Whether as a chorus, or as a lone voice, each number shines with sheer talent.  Accompanied by the multi-talented musical director, Jeremy Ramey, Anzevino showcases what has to be one of their best performances. 

This fright fest of blood and death is dripping with passionate intensity.  Philip Torre’s (Sweeney Todd) marvelous baritone perfectly reflects the depth of the barber’s descent into hopeless depravity, while retaining our sympathy for his undeserved injustices.  Torre’s commitment to the role is flawless, and works as a great counterweight to the casual comedy of Jacquelyne Jones as Mrs. Lovett, the infamous pie maker.  Jones and Torre contrast levity with brooding savagery in a metaphorical dance across the bodies of their victims; dead flesh soon to be prepared by them for public consumption.

A pre-cursor to Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols) and Nancy, the amoral, dance of destruction corrodes and infiltrates into the heart of Lovett and Todd’s relationship. Jones comedic foil to Torre’s dark soul works its magic to draws us nearer to the abyss (in this case the bake house ovens), which reeks of decay.  Jones and Torre complement each other in their respective roles.  I can only say that it must have been great fun, and hard work to put this musical together.  The end result is a performance to remember. 

Apart from the jaded, but understandable desperation of Lovett and Todd, we are drawn into the dramatic proceedings by the innocent lost boy, Toby, played by Frankie Leo Burnett, and the equally naïve Johanna, played by Cecilia Iole.  The innocence of youth, unmarred by experience, keeps us from complete despair, until the sins of the elders trap the younger generation in the cycle of anger and retribution. 

Anzevino has left his mark on Rogers Park with this book musical finale.  This will be your last time to see a production of this magnitude in such a small place.  Theo Ubique will move on to better things, leaving behind a history 51 Jeff awards, and 132 nominations since it became eligible in 2005.  Catch this shadow before it passes and bask in its delightful darkness. 
No Exit Cafe, 6970 N Glenwood
Ave, Chicago, IL 6062

April 2018

 

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