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Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival makes evil fun in stylish production

Published: July 8, 2013
By DANA OLAND / doland@idahostatesman.com — Idaho Statesman

It's one thing to take on a landmark piece of musical theater, such as “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” It's another to turn it into a transformative work of art, and that's what the Idaho Shakespeare Festival achieved Saturday.

Director Victoria Bussert and a cast of 16 actor-singers brushed the cobwebs from the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical as they transported the audience from aghast discomfort in the opening to a dark, blood-soaked revelry by the finale that had them cheering as the lights went down.

It's raw, gruesome, devilishly funny and unflinchingly honest. Bussert never backs away from the darker realities of the early industrial urban life: the timeless excesses of power, corruption and institutionalized cruelty that fuel the story.

Charlotte Yetman's costumes, a mix of rich colorful fabrics and modern twists on Victorian style, breathe life into the production, as does Jeff Herrmann's purple-hued, mechanized set of rotating panels and trap doors. As darkness comes, Mary Jo Dondlinger's lighting deepens the impact.

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Music director Matthew Webb leads the orchestra – filled with many Boise Philharmonic players – with a keen musical skill and attention to detail.

Tom Ford in the title role and Sara M. Bruner as Mrs. Lovett are as delightfully a sinful, bawdy pair of evildoers as you could want.

Turns out that Ford, though mostly a tenor, is a powerhouse baritone. He brings a conscience to his Todd, as he is hollowed out by his own evil deeds and lust for revenge.

Bruner continues to surprise with the depth of her performances. She attacks Mrs. Lovett with lusty avarice and evil genius. She proves herself vocally, handling this extremely difficult and demanding score with near athletic prowess and tender expression.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

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