You wouldn't expect a room that was designed primarily for suburban city council meetings to serve well as a 19th century English chamber of horrors.
Think again. Michael Michetti's staging of "Sweeney Todd," the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical, at the Scherr Forum Theatre in Thousand Oaks, is intensely focused, capturing the material's slashing irony, mordant wit, creepy jolts and final pathos.
It helps that George Ball and Amanda McBroom, real-life married actors, play the vengeful barber and his pie-baking mate. They appear to have a natural chemistry with each other, and each has reached the ideal moment to do "Sweeney Todd."
Ball has a hound dog's face that can suddenly break into a snarl. His voice is a powerful instrument, perfect for Sweeney's haunted reveries, and he has the vocal technique that L.A.'s last Sweeney, the more famous Kelsey Grammer, lacked, at the Ahmanson Theatre.
McBroom easily captures Mrs. Lovett's brash optimism, thoughtless amorality and occasional sentimentality. Both of the stars--and indeed, the entire cast--deliver Sondheim's most devilish lyrics with precision and glee.
In contrast to a sharply thrust production of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" in this space two years ago, the hall is in a proscenium configuration, minus the actual arch. However, to bridge the distances that can lend a gymnasium-like quality to the hall, Michetti occasionally brings the action through the wide aisle that separates the close seats from those in the back, and he moves actors up to the high platforms on the sides, setting the asylum scene entirely up in the rafters. The blocking is smooth and agile, punctuated by Gary Mintz's stark shafts of light. "Sweeney" experts should know that Michetti deletes the judge's self-flagellation scene, probably the show's most expendable.
Ilana Eden's nine-piece orchestra on the rear platform sounds surprisingly full, and Greg Burns' sound design is remarkably clear and balanced.
Talk that this could be the swan song of Gold Coast Plays, the producing organization of this and the earlier "Night Music," is a shame, based on the evidence of "Sweeney." The run is brief, so Sondheimaniacs shouldn't dally.
* "Sweeney Todd--The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," Scherr Forum Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Feb. 27. $22-$28. (805) 583-8700, (213) 480-3232. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.
George Ball: Sweeney Todd
Amanda McBroom: Mrs. Lovett
Gene Brundage: Judge Turpin
Melissa Fahn: Johanna
Chris D. Thomas: Anthony
Michael Criste: Tobias
Scott Harlan: Beadle Bamford
Matt Stevens: Pirelli
Anette Michelle Sanders: Beggar Woman
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Directed by Michael Michetti. Musical direction by Ilana Eden. Set by Kim Daehlin. Lighting by Gary Mintz. Sound by Greg Burns. Costume coordinators Gail Garon, Diana Townsend. Production stage manager Vernon Willet.