Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sweeney "Odd"

Odd, yes, definitely, but I LOVED the experience of seeing this show. The new Sweeney Todd on Broadway is just getting underway in previews, and I was fortunate enough to be in Manhattan to see it! Obviously, I was most excited to see the incomparable Patti LuPone playing one of her signature roles. And even though I KNEW that this would be an avant garde, revisionist interpretation of Sweeney, that knowledge could in NO way prepare me for the actual event.

The setting is an asylum, possibly Fogg's Asylum from the traditional Sweeney. A cast of ten are onstage for duration of the performance, acting their roles, singing their songs, and (as if that weren't enough) playing their instruments. Yes, Toby plays a violin, Anthony & Johanna play celli (so erotic!), Mrs. Lovett plays various percussion and tuba (laughs ensue), and Sweeney himself finds time to strum the guitar. There is no pit orchestra, only the ten people onstage.

While this production is certain to be controversial--loved by some, hated by more--I am still in SHOCK at the amazing talent of these actors. They not only memorized their lines and their songs (all performed beautifully) but also their instruments' score. For the ENTIRE SHOW. And the music was virtually continuous -- one number blended seamlessly into the next, effectively keeping the audience from applauding until the end of each act. (Has this director possibly studied ritual theory?)

Sweeney Todd officially opens on November 3. What will critics think? What do fans think? I hope that Sondheim worshipers (like me) will give it a chance. It's more creepy, stark, shocking, exciting, bloody, visceral than any traditional Sweeney production. It needs to be experienced.

Since returning to Denver, I've had a ton of fun surfing the blogosphere to see what people think of this new Sweeney. Zawadi Bill and The Playgoer both have superbly written reviews of the show (even though Bill hates Michael Cerveris' Sweeney, and errantly believes Patti has a FALSETTO) and are both much better writers than I will ever be. Highly recommended. Also, be sure to read bookslibretti's experience of waiting outside the stage door to meet Patti LuPone.


ZawadiBill said...

Thanks for mentioning my blog, but I do not think I'm incorrect in citing Patti's falsetto. If that quasi-head voice is a true extension of her range, than scratch what I wrote in my review.

ZawadiBill said...

"then"... Oh bother.

Jericho said...

Hi Bill! Please forgive the falsetto comment -- I regretted it soon after I posted it. Although I do believe that the mechanism Patti used was "head voice", she certainly may have flipped into a type of falsetto register in some places.

I personally tend to avoid using the term "falsetto" when working with women's voices. I really need to defer to some of my female friends with better voice training than I possess -- hey Treblemaker, IS there a female falsetto (someplace in between head voice and whistle register?) and have you ever been trained to access it? Just curious.

Bill, I really thought your Sweeney review was superb. I did actually enjoy Michael Cerveris' performance, thought it was definitely understated. BTW, what's your take on the white infant coffin that took the place of Sweeney's barber chair in the second act? Also, did you happen to see the piece in yesterday's New York Times? I've been curious to read about Sondheim's reaction to this production.

Alexa Doebele said...

Good question, and hard to answer. Ultimately, the existence of female falsetto depends on whom you ask. (I know of one person - music ed PhD from CU - who maintains that there *is* female falsetto.) Personally, I don't think that female falsetto exists, but that female head voice is the closest analogy to male falsetto. There's also whistle register above that, but that's for the extreme high range (approx. E6 and higher). Not knowing exactly how Patti sounded it would be hard for me to qualify exactly what's going on, but there's my two cents!

ZawadiBill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ZawadiBill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ZawadiBill said...

Okay, maybe I should preview my comments before posting them. Ignore my two deleted posts!

Anyway... excellent discussion! I've often wondered about the terminology, but I'm certain it exists in the female voice.

And Jericho, (Joni Mitchell fan?), thanks for all of the kind words about the Sweeney review. They're greatly appreciated! I did read the NYT piece, and I'm happy to read of Sondheim's appreciation of this particular interpretation. It does bring the show back to it's intimate beginnings without compromising any of the score's epic intentions. It's a testament to Sondheim's writing that the piece can have just as much biting reverence in a stripped-down chamber treatment as it does in the symphony hall.

As to those white coffins, I think it's a variation on the allusion I mentioned in my review, whereas the coffin equals freedom as much as it does.. death. I'm sure it isn't literal, and there may not be any one answer, but the concept grew on me, however irksome it seemed at first.

Though I do miss that barber chair... Especially in moments like the Johanna Quartet in Act II - where it provided such a twisted, comic counterpoint to an otherwise serious, sumptuous bit of melodious Sondheim reverie.

Jericho said...

My orginal thought was quite literal -- that the coffin might represent the loss of a child (possibly to the asylum inmate "portraying" Sweeney?) Cerveris just seemed awfully preoccupied with the tiny white coffin! Maybe he was trying to remember his lines? ;)

I look forward to reading your reactions upon seeing Sweeney again this weekend. Thanks for all great comments, Zawadi Bill.

Jericho said...

P.S. I am definitely a Joni Mitchell fan (I'm particularly obsessed with "River" and "A Case of You") but "Jericho" is actually the name my yellow lab came with when I adopted him last year. I'm originally from West Virginia, so I have a tendency to slurrrrrr Jericho's name when I call him. I've actually be separately accused of naming my dog "Jerko" and (amusingly) "Jerk-off".

Quoting David Sedaris, "Me talk pretty one day."

Maybe one day me will!

Jericho said...

"I've actually BEEN accused..."

I should preview my OWN comments!