Three months ago at the Onyx Theatre, Off-Strip Productions delivered one of the season's best local shows with director Brandon Burk's vision of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Because of other commitments, the often sold-out musical played only three weekends.
Providence is kind. Sweeney has returned.
The Hugh Wheeler tale (based on Christopher Bond's play of the same name) deals with a bitter, battered barber in mid-1800s London who has a nasty habit of slitting customers' throats. No wonder. He was falsely imprisoned for 15 years, lost his wife and daughter and is now back in town for big-time revenge.
Those who have seen past mountings probably think of this as a large-scale enterprise. Burk has brilliantly reimagined the script to suit the Onyx's 96-seat space. The mechanics of how he has chosen to do so are a good hunk of the evening's fun. For example, we know our hero is going to slaughter a bunch of people in song, but exactly how the victims are done away with earns huge laughs. And the character of Tobias - originally played as a simple, naive boy who stumbles onto dastardly deeds - is here portrayed as a mentally challenged middle-age man in a straitjacket who is remembering events.
Burk's dramaturgical decisions reinforce the idea that budgetary and space restrictions can encourage creativity.
In the title role, Chris Mayse (with Glenn Heath doing Sunday matinees) again projects homicidal anger mixed with dark humor. He's part Rod Steiger in "The Pawnbroker," part Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs" and, best of all, uniquely Mayse. Kellie Wright as Mrs. Lovett, the woman he hooks up with, is equal doses maternal, seductive and mad.
Scott Gibson-Uebele as Anthony is as sweet-voiced as ever. But his acting now has more depth. When he spits out frantic, complicated lyrics, his face communicates every convoluted thought. He makes you understand the source of all these words.
Kim Glover makes her beggar woman funny, manic and pathetic. Somehow she also doesn't cheat on the singing.
Alex Mendoza's Pirelli, the comically evil snake-oil salesman, comes across as the typical melodrama villain. His superbly trained and expressive voice makes you wonder how a community theater could ever afford him.
As Tobias, Troy Tinker, unfortunately, is too broad this time out. He's perfect for the part but seems to be playing to a third balcony when there isn't one. Our leads are sometimes equally guilty of overscaling. Mayse breaks into peculiar talk-speak so often that you wonder if he's become bored with the melody lines.
Technical values remain first-rate.
One major disappointment: After three months of having the opportunity to work the kinks out, Burk has made little improvement. Too many actors strike me as content to simply repeat their performances, warts and all. This should have been an opportunity for growth.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.