Friday, August 7, 2009

REVIEW: "Sweeney Todd" at Algonquin

I have seen many fully professional productions that weren't as good as last night's "Sweeney Todd" at the Algonquin Arts Theater in Manasquan. Directed by Cynthia Meryl and starring a young cast of the New Jersey Youth Theatre both onstage and in the orchestra, the production was a wicked success. The actors, particularly leads Kevin Melendez and Jaclyn Ingoglia, are exciting, energized and enormously talented. It was clear for both that we're witnessing the birth of celebrated careers.

One of the reasons I love this Sondheim musical is the complexity and inventiveness in the music. It's gorgeous, but also thorny and unpredictable. That also makes it one of the most difficult musicals out there, for the orchestra and the cast of singers.

There were rare moments of weakness in the orchestra and in the singing voices of some of the cast on stage. If you weren't looking for them you would not have noticed. Mostly, the musical professionalism was staggering, particularly so given the young age of most of the players. The cast's ensemble numbers, like "God That's Good" that opens the second act, were especially effective. The opening "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is reprised throughout the musical at key moments and each time with powerfully unified synchronization of voices, acting, lighting and staging.

The hits of last night's performance, hands down, were delivered by Ingoglia as Mrs. Lovett with her song "The Worst Pies in London" and her duet with Melendez, "A Little Priest," both in Act I. At intermission, the audience was still laughing over her mad capering dance during "A Little Priest".

But singling out those moments is an injustice to what is overall a very exciting, polished and compelling production. Tickets are still available for performances that continue through the weekend, 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, and Saturday, Aug. 8, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9. Algonquin is located at 173 Main St., Manasquan. Call 732-528-9211 for more information or visit the theater's website,


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