Friday, August 6, 2010

Sondheim Strikes Back

So, when I think about musicals, I think cheese, mainly; some catchy songs; romance; couple of gags; an attempt at a schocking twist; happy ending; good clean family fun. Sweeney Todd doesn't quite meet any of those criteria. It's soo much better.
Most of yez will probably have seen Sondheim's epic musical thriller as adapted to film by the wonderful Mr. Tim Burton, but, as is true in so many cases, the movie can never quite match the real thing. First of all, Cork Operatic Society's production showcases some genuinely outstanding talent, most notably Michael Sands (Sweeney), Deirdre Bashford (Mrs. Lovett), Molly Lynch (Johanna), and Jack Healy (Toby). I can assure you that all the cast can sing as well as act (sorry, Mr. Depp). Personally I am really proud of the Society for weathering the economic storm and producing such an amazing show pretty much against all odds, surely to be commended by all you culture vultures, hint hint nudge nudge.

At the risk of giving a history lecture, let me give a summary of the already short life story of Cork Operatic Society. In the semi-sham that was Cork's year as Capital of Culture in 2005, various artistic projects were launched, Opera 2005 and Cork Opera Works, of which I was a part. The year ended, and later on, a big mean ole recession chased the stripy tail of the Celtic Tiger right out of Cork, and along with it went its arts schemes. For a while it looked pretty darn gloomy for the country's single most popular pursuit. However, not to have their dreams quashed by lousy and unreasonable cutbacks, some people decided not to just accept the disappearance of support and funding and go on with the show. That is how the Cork Operatic Society was born. It's a voluntary affair, and the sale of tickets only just covers the cost of the company's shows, so nobody actually makes any money out of them. Their aim is "to present innovative and high quality productions of operatic and musical works to the public. In doing so, it also provides invaluable performance experience to its members". So bear all this in mind when you note the lack of superfluous props in the show. As if an unforgivingly low budget was not enough to challenge Team Todd, the venue for which the show was intended was quite literally swept out from under them. Perseverance, it would seem, is the Society's middle name, and they managed to get the show moved to the Everyman Palace, when other productions were simply abandoned.

The good news is, the society is thankfully reaping the rewards of its selfless and top-quality work. I was so happy to see that the tickets for opening night were sold out. I've seen two of the Society's shows - Candide and The Magic Flute, and both were incredible, so I had high expectations for The Todd. And it waaay exceeded them. On entering the lavish red theatre, the audience was met by what I think was the most arresting thing I've seen on stage. And this was before the show ever started. The whole cast was on stage, stark bloodstained sheets hanging above them , depicting scenes from a Victorian mental asylum. Sitting in the centre of the front row was the musical director, John O'Brien. Having been in his choir for five years, I recognised his Zone Face. The lights dimmed, he stood, the harrowing cries and demented rocking continued on stage. I already had goosebumps. The Company acted as narrators, telling the story of the Demon Barber after his and Mrs. Lovett's deaths, which gave the whole thing a really chilling feel.

Mr. Sondheim sure knows his stuff. The music in Sweeney is catchy, as it must be, but also rich and complex, and his lyrics are brilliantly sharp and funny. The plot is faultless. Together they create a truly entertaining and ironic piece - proper grown-up stuff. With a cameo form Corkonian treasure Cara O'Sullivan as Pirelli and amazing young talent like Lynch and Healy, complemented by an accomplished 35-piece orchestra, this show definitely won't disappoint. It's witty, poignant, creepy and often quite beautiful. I am seriously considering trimming my own beard from now on. People, the pies may be awful, but there are Magnums at half-time; student tickets are €15, only 2 nights left, so get yours NOW, for the closest shave you'll ever get...

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