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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 22, 2019


jett pangan as sweeney todd and lea salonga as mrs. lovett

from top left: arman ferrer, gerald santos, mikee bradshow volante,
ima castro, luigi quesada, dean rosen

ATLANTIS PRODUCTIONS comes up with a new take on “Sweeney Todd”, the dark musical by Stephen Sondheim first staged in London exactly 40 years ago in 1979. It’s been staged here before, done in the more traditional way. You’d notice the difference right away when you see the stylized and highly theatrical sets creating a strange new world for the demon barber of Fleet St. It’s certainly radically different from past stagings, including the movie version that starred Johnny Depp in the title role.

For one thing, it doesn’t even have the iconic barber’s chair where the murderous Sweeney Todd sends his victims to kingdom come in the twistedly macabre story. Instead, the victims, after their throats have been slashed, just walk casually towards a big oven on stage.

This production is modernized and it even uses real cars, which was not yet in existence during Sweeney’s time in Victorian England. The two leads come on stage on board a vintage car/truck that figures prominently in the play, alternately functioning as the pie shop and the barber shop.

The musical starts with Sweeney (Jett Pangan) arriving in London after he was rescued at sea by Anthony (Gerald Santos), a young sailor. He used to be a barber named Benjamin Barker who is wrongly convicted and sent to an Australia prison for 15 years. He now wants to exact vengeance from Judge Turpin (Andrew Fernando) who sent him to jail and raped his wife.

heir opening song shows the different feelings of Anthony and Sweeney upon arriving in London in “No Place Like London”. Anthony is expecting some adventure while Sweeney has no affection for his old place: “There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit/ And the vermin of the world inhabit it.” One of these vermins is Mrs. Lovett (Lea Salonga) who owns a pie shop that she says has “The worst pies in London.” 

Mrs. Lovett quickly recognizes Sweeney as her former tenant, Benjamin Barker, and lets him occupy the room on top of her pie shop. It turns out that she has kept Sweeney’s razors all these years, which shows she has harbored feelings for him that long. Mrs. Lovett provides Sweeney a means for his revenge and later uses his victims to obtain meat for her pies that quickly become best sellers and turn her customers into unknowing cannibals.

Their partnership is obviously not one that is made in heaven but probably hatched somewhere underneath. But the brooding Jett and the insouciant Lea make a good pair of partners in crime on stage. They’re a delight to watch and it’s enough to make you fall under the musical’s spell. Jett’s exquisite vocal pipes will just enthrall you in song after song.

Lea disappears in a role that is definitely darker than anything she has played before and she does it convincingly. We particularly like her solo, “By the Sea”, where she tries to convince Sweeney for them to have a life together by the seaside. Watch Helena Bonham Carter’s version of the same song in the film version and you’d easily see the difference. Also the version of Angela Lansbury who originated the role on Broadway (available on youtube) and you can see how unnecessarily more flippant it is.

The singing, for the most part, never really loses its steam.

Gerald Santos tackles his first local musical production after excelling as Thuy in “Miss Saigon” and he brings the lovestruck Anthony Hope to life with exuberance, supplying the brightness that’s needed in this gloomy play. He has a suitably romantic voice that makes his soaring rendition of ‘Johanna’ perfect for that “love at first sight moment” when he first sees the daughter of Sweeney that is now a ward of the villainous Judge Turpin.

Mikee Bradshaw-Volante’s lilting soprano as the encaged Johanna is properly melodious but we wish she had a less wider girth to complement Gerald’s slimmer frame.

Luigi Quesada as Tobias, the assistant of rival barber Adolfo Pirelli (Nyoy Volante) shines in his ardent rendition of the play’s most famous song, “Not While I’m Around”, his pledge of devotion to Mrs. Lovett who has taken the dim-witted boy under her wing, but his projection on stage is quite feminine.

Nyoy Volante shows his versatility as Pirelli with an Italian accent, providing comic relief as he threatens to expose Sweeney’s secret and pays dearly for it, getting to belt out the song “Pirelli’s Death”.

Andrew Fernando as Judge Turpin cuts a suave but sinister figure, excelling in his solo, “Mea Culpa”, while Arman Ferrer as his menacing henchman, Beadle Bramford, manages to make the most of his limited exposure in the “Sweet Polly Plunket” number.

Ima Castro also steals some scenes as the Beggar Woman in her “Lullaby” song, roaming the streets and later turning out to be Sweeney’s wife who he thought has died but has actually only gone insane.

Congratulations to Bobby Garcia for his adventurous and deft direction, David Gallo for his inventive set design and Gerard Salonga and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra for their splendid musical work that surely enhanced the narrative. Don’t miss it at the Solaire on its last few days this weekend!