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Highlands High School's SWEENEY TODD

Sweeney Todd (Evan Stuart) and Mrs. Lovett (Grace Schuley) end the tale in Highlands High School's production of SWEENEY TODD.

Review by Ashlyn Fuhrmann, William Henry Harrison High School Critic Team

Gruesome murder, rotten stench, and sweet revenge is found around every corner of Fleet Street in Highlands High School's thrilling production of Sweeney Todd.

Based on the 1970 play of the same name, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street tells the story of Sweeney Todd, a murderous barber who recently returned to London in hopes of reuniting with his family, only to go down a dark path of blood lust and revenge. Originally opening on Broadway in 1979 and winning eight Tony awards, Sweeney Todd has cemented itself in Broadway history through its dazzling Sondheim score and engaging story.

Highlands High School's production of Sweeney Todd gorgeously executed the difficult vocals and dynamic storytelling of this show. The detailed lighting design, as well as the complex set led to a breathtaking production that left you on the edge of your seat.

Evan Stuart skillfully brought to life the role of Sweeney Todd as he gorgeously portrayed Todd's descent into madness as the show progresses. From his detailed mannerisms and stage presence to his outstanding vocal performance in songs such as "Epiphany," Stuart never failed to leave an overwhelming sense of tension in the air as Todd sought after his revenge. Scheming alongside Todd was none other than Mrs. Lovett, played by Grace Shuley. Throughout this dark production, Shuley never failed to lighten the mood with her brilliant comedic timing and quick wit showcased in songs such as "By the Sea." In addition, Shuley's stunning vocals further enhanced this spectacular production.

And throughout this otherwise ominous performance, two characters served as a beacon of light to those around them. Jameson Zoller (Anthony) and Jonah Listerman (Johanna) beautifully embodied the star crossed lovers from the moment they laid eyes on one another. Zoller's enchanting vocal tone in his ballad "Johanna" expertly displayed Anthony's true feelings for her as the two planned to run away together. Listerman's elegant vibrato and vocal complexities brought yet another show-stopping feature to this production.

Illustrating this thrilling show was Robert Chalk, Penelope Kolb, Gabe McDermott and crew's foreboding light design. The creative use of shadows and red lighting continued to add suspense and fear as they loomed over the characters below. In addition, Caroline Slaby, AnnaLucy Surrey, assistants and crew's genius set design utilizing space beneath the stage, as well as multiple levels to further actors' performances gave the show a breath of life, helping to portray this extraordinary narrative.

This phenomenal production is a challenge with its complex score and advanced set elements, but Highlands High School exceeded all expectations, resulting in a breathtaking and memorable performance.

Tobias (Noah Varland) sings the attributes of Perilli’s Miracle Elixir in Highlands High School's production of SWEENEY TODD.

Review by Loretta Rubin, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

Revenge, corruption, and meat pies combine perfectly in Highlands High School's production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Sweeney Todd, based on an urban legend and short story by Thomas Prest, premiered on Broadway in 1979, with music composed by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim and the book written by Hugh Wheeler. It tells the tale of a barber who returns to London after being banished by a corrupt judge and with the help of Mrs. Lovett, the owner of a failing pie shop, enacts his revenge.

From his first entrance in "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" to his last exit in the finale, Evan Stuart as the demon barber himself, Sweeney Todd maintained a simmering intensity that was integral in sustaining the mystery of the show. This intensity was not only visible in his stage presence but in his vocals as well, and his rendition of "Epiphany" was emotional and spine-chilling. Grace Shuley embodied the character of Mrs. Lovett perfectly, and her take on "By the Sea", sung with a powerhouse voice, was a masterclass in comedic timing. Both leads played off each other fluidly, with their duet "A Little Priest" being a flawless testament to this.

Phia Veshapidze as the crazed beggar woman was captivating, and she handled the constantly shifting attitudes of the character with incredible dramatic and vocal skill. In a show that dwells in darkness, Jameson Zoller as Anthony and Jonah Listerman as Johanna were a beacon of pure hope, and their voices blended admirably during "Kiss Me". Jonah Moore as Pirelli had a dynamic stage presence during "The Contest" and was nothing short of hysterical, while Tobias, played by Noah Varland, was innocent and sincere in his approach to the character during "Not While I'm Around," which made it all the more heartbreaking. Sweeney Todd is an extremely difficult show musically speaking, and the ensemble took on this challenge with unprecedented skill. The ensemble worked together harmoniously, and yet everyone on stage was a fully-fledged character in their own right.

The technical elements of the show captured the overall tone adeptly. The lighting, designed by Robert Chalk, Penelope Kolb, Gabe McDermott, and crew, used silhouettes of the characters during dramatic scenes, as well as bright red lighting during murderous moments which was visually impactful. The costumes, by Megan Reichert, Linnell Anderson, Sydney Beach, and crew, were incredibly detailed and individualized for each ensemble member, adding to their dynamism. Mrs. Lovett's dress in "By the Sea" was especially spectacular, and her quick change was handled flawlessly.

Sweeney Todd is a powerful parable on the pitfalls of revenge, and Highlands High School's production did justice to this bloody epic and emitted a powerful message about the widespread effects of corruption.

Sweeney Todd (Evan Stuart) prepares for revenge against the Judge (Sam Hopper) in Highlands High School's production of SWEENEY TODD.

Review by Emily Merica, Ursuline Academy Critic Teeam

Note to self: head over to Sweeney Todd's barber shop on Fleet Street for the closest shave of your life. After witnessing Highlands High School's bone-chilling rendition of Sweeney Todd, maybe one should rethink that sentiment if they wish to keep their head.

Based on the play by Christopher Bond, this sinister tale was adapted into a musical by the notorious Stephen Sondheim. Set in 1840s London, the story follows a vengeful barber and his piemaker counterpart as they slowly descend into madness. The musical has an ominous soundtrack that is notably difficult to perform, yet Highland's cast took on the challenge and executed it flawlessly.

Highlands' production of Sweeney Todd was truly an amazing experience to bear witness to. The cast perfectly portrayed the madness and disturbing nature of the show, bringing the audience to the edge of their seats. The entire cast was incredibly in tune with each other, bringing nearly perfect coordination to everything they did. Together, their voices melded into a beautifully sinister symphony.

The star of this show is none other than Sweeney Todd, the psychotic, murderous barber himself. Played by Evan Stuart, the crazed, devolving nature of the character is portrayed perfectly on stage, leaving the audience's hearts racing and keeping them on the edge of suspense. Stuart's performance was truly outstanding, as he managed to show so much, by demonstrating so little emotion. He maintained his stoicism, even while in song, somehow bringing a new level to the character as the audience witnesses his evolving lunacy.

Of course, Sweeney Todd wouldn't be complete without the lovely Mrs. Lovett, played by Grace Shuley. Mrs. Lovett brought a much-needed comical juxtaposition to her partner in crime, even though she still managed to lose her mind. Shuley's performance was certainty one for the books, as she captured Mrs. Lovett's unhinged nature perfectly. She also took on an impressive accent that she managed to keep up flawlessly while singing, bringing a new life to her character.

The technical features of the show were what really brought it together. Audible gasps could be heard from the audience at the reveal of the infamous barber chair. It was truly a sight to see Sweeney Todd's slayed victims slide underneath the stage. Speaking of slaying, the murders themselves were truly astonishing. A pipette full of stage blood was squeezed every time a kill was made, allowing the blood to hit the light just right, creating a spectacular effect that added to the authenticity of the show. The lighting was another element that perfectly captured the emotion and moods of each scene. From warm tones during softer scenes, to bright harsh reds during moments of high suspense, the lights added to the sinister nature of the show. Even the shadows cast on the back wall created an ominous atmosphere that elicited dread from all corners of the theater.

Highlands High School truly brought the terror of Sweeney Todd back to life, the hand of suspense gripping the audience the entire night. Let's hope you'll never have to pay a visit to Fleet Street . It may be your last.

Sweeney Todd (Evan Stuart) writes letter to the judge in Highlands High School's production of SWEENEY TODD

Excerpts From Other Top Reviews

"The ensemble seamlessly transitioned through their many roles, with noticeable difference in their approach to each: storytellers in the opening 'Ballad of Sweeney Todd,' townspeople during 'The Contest,' and The Lunatics in 'Fogg's Asylum." This cast took on the incredibly challenging Sondheim vocals with confidence, playing into the dissonance rather than shying away from it."

-Tricia Halili-Felse, Loveland High School Critic Team

"Without a doubt, this show could not have achieved its terrific atmosphere without the impeccable lighting executed by Robert Chalk, Penelope Kolb, and Gabe McDermott throughout the performance. At times, the light would cut across the stage like a knife, illuminating Sweeney and his blade while leaving the rest of the stage in darkness. Their attention to detail, such as the entire stage being bathed in red light before a kill, is what made the performance so professional."

-Ella Jones, Ursuline Academy Critic Team

" Even with the dark themes, Phia Veshapidze kept audiences laughing as Beggar Woman with her dedication to acting like a crazed old woman, never breaking a hunched-over walk and delivering her lines with force and volume, making audiences laugh the entire show."

-Grace Hoffmann, Roger Bacon High School Critic Team

"With so many moving elements involved much is needed to keep the show cohesive in the macabre feeling of the production. Through the work of assistant directors Chloe Caudill and Caleb Lindsey, this was able to be achieved. Caudill and Lindsey had a heavy role in blocking and character work, helping make sure each element from an acting standpoint made sense."

-Lizzy Rebber, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

"Similarly, the supporting actors and actresses tackled their roles with brilliance and excellence, making their roles stand out no matter how big or small. The charismatic Anthony played by Jameson Zoller, and the hopeful Johanna, portrayed by Jonah Listerman, had taken over the stage through their incredible vocals and unbelievable chemistry while performing 'Kiss Me.'"

-Kylie Elliot, Taylor High School Critic Team

"Megan Reichert, the lead costume designer, assured all costumes were time-period accurate. Todd's and Lovett's costumes were similar in style to higher society but muted and tattered in color. ."

- Syeirra Todaro, William Mason High School Critic Team

"Overall, the cast and crew of Highlands' Sweeney Todd put on a delectable performance, displaying the conflicts and consequences between love and revenge."

-Anna Grace Hull, Ursuline Academy Critic Team


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