HUMMELS WHARF - There is precious little time left to catch up with the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
"Sweeney Todd," the premiere production of The Courtyard Theater, concludes its run with 7 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday as well as a 2 p.m. finale on Sunday.
The owners of the theatre, which is located just outside J.C. Penney at the Susquehanna Valley Mall, are Art Lieberman, producer, and Bob Taylor, artistic director.
The infamous barber chair used by Sweeney Todd, “the demon barber of Fleet Street,” can be seen at The Courtyard Theater this weekend.
Starting up a community theatre group comes with plenty of uncertainties, having the theatre in a shopping mall also poses some novel challenges and picking Stephen Sondheim's thriller musical "Sweeney Todd" as the first production is risky, both in casting and box office appeal.
The Tony Award-winning "Best Musical" is a portrait of Benjamin Barker, a barber driven to madness who returns to London after being falsely imprisoned by a lecherous Judge Turpin who lusts after his wife Lucy and kidnaps his daughter Johanna. Bent on revenge, he takes up his razors, naming himself "Sweeney Todd", and with the help of an enterprising pie maker, becomes the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, "who shaved the heads of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard from again."
Although auditions were held in August, Taylor acknowledged in a press release only six weeks before the opening that he was still looking for male singers, including the lead Sweeney Todd.
Matthew Fulkerson was cast as Todd, and with his pallid face and brooding stare is effective as the barber seeking retribution.
Gloria Lehman's comical characterizations as Mrs. Lovett surface near the end of Act I in the duet "A Little Priest" and early Act II ( "By the Sea") .
In a twist of fate, Matthew Fulkerson's brother Nathan replaced the actor playing Anthony only days before opening night.
Taylor, who designed the decor of the venue, noted that there were some suprises in the casting, one of which is the good-hearted Tobias being played by a woman, Claire Brassard, instead of the traditional man.
Seasoned veteran Nick Buckman, who plays Judge Turpin, is also the Courtyard Theater's technical director.
Isaac Shaffer plays Todd's competing barber Pirelli, Isaac J. Conner shows good stage presence as Beadie Bamford, Hanna Hook is the fair-haired Johanna and Davena McCabe is the beggar woman. Veteran Jerry Keebler, like other ensemble members, plays multiple roles including Jonas Fogg, proprietor of the asylum where Johanna is kept.
The (too) small ensemble includes some first-timers, most needing on the opening weekend a bit more oomph in belting out the score.
Sondheim describes "Sweeney Todd" as a "musical horror story" and a "dark operetta" which is difficult for non-professionals to sing well.
The program lists "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" as having seven reprises - that's a lot of reprises. Michael Blaustein as the show's music director uses the orchextra system to provide enhancement of the score.
Lieberman assesses that the thriller musical "is 80 percent music and the score underlies the entire show. The choral work is often discordant and intense."
The show's top vocal is delivered by Nathan Fulkerson's with the ballad "Johanna." Other audience favorites are Mrs. Lovett's "The Worst Pies in London," Todd and Judge Turpin's duet "Pretty Woman" and Tobias' "Not While I"m Around." Getting the most applause is Todd and Mrs. Lovett's comical duet "A Little Priest."
With the operatic-like score and reprises, "Sweeney Todd" runs nearly three hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Producer Liberman stated prior to opening that The Courtyard Theater has taken one gigantic challenge by doing this Sondheim masterpiece as its first show. Staging is creative with the single set covering a room in Judge's home, the upstairs barber shop, Mrs. Lovett's pie shop with all other scenes played in front of the set. Pirelli's "tent" is moved downstage, a sofa and "piano" moved to connote Mrs. Lovett's parlour, and the bake oven also pulled from the wings to show where the barber's victims are cooked into a tasty pastry with gravy.
Costuming is top-notch with Jerry Keebler as Fogg (rather than Johanna and the Beggar Woman) sporting the best-looking wig.
Even though the musical is set in the "great black pit of London", many scenes are under-lit, and the moving spot catches not only the actor on stage but often audience members in the first few rows.
So although there is no stomach-churning or blood squirting over the shop, The Courtyard Theater's "Sweeney Todd," with some principals' passionate singing and flashes of dark humor, is bloodless but mostly "bloody good" entertainment.
For tickets or more information, call 570-374-0060 or visit www.thecourtyardtheater.com.