Not for money, not for love is there a single ticket for the
remaining performances on Friday and Saturday. After tonight's
performance, the jam-packed Davies Hall erupted in an unprecedented
standing-screaming-riotous-sustained ovation. How come? This is San
Francisco, well used to the composer known and loved here for ecades -
why would this town go crazy over a non-novelty semi-staged production
of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd"?
Because it's an extraordinary show, with an outstanding cast performing
as an ensemble, the San Francisco Symphony - under Rob Fisher's superb
direction - laying down a transparent, gorgeous carpet of sound, Vance
George's Symphony Chorus acting both as soloists for the many small roles
and as a fired-up ensemble, Lonny Price's simple and effective direction
in the difficult space in-between the musicians on stage, and an anonymous
lighting design that made it all work. There have been many "operatic"
productions of "Todd," but this is the first symphonic performance I heard
and the experience was most rewarding.
Extraordinary too was the way very different elements came together in
perfect harmony. Besides the special role of the orchestra, there was
also a rainbow of variety among the performers: George Hearn and Patti
LuPone (Todd and Mrs. Lovett) come from the very best of American musical
tradition, from classical music drama; Davis Gaines and Lisa Vroman
(Anthony and Joanna) were the Phantom and Christina through years of the
Webber show's run; Neil Patrick Harris (Tobias) starred in "Rent"; John
Aler and Stanford Olsen (The Beadle, Pirelli) are known for their work in
opera and oratorio. And yet, all of them- as well as Victoria Clark
(Beggar Woman) and Timothy Nolen (Judge Turpin) - coming from different
background, experience and genre blended together, completed what the
others brought to Davies Hall.
LuPone was a riot, hilarious and yet affecting, deftly negotiating a
unique balance between playing the role and breaking through the fourth
wall frequently. Hearn is a treasure; his portrayal of the victim-monster
utterly simple (and so all the more dangerous and scary), his singing warm
and powerful, the high points reached not just through more volume but by
going into a controlled, overwhelming scream. Vroman was at her usual
vocal best, but Gaines presented a strange (and yet justly acclaimed)
performance. In "Johanna," he squeezed and scooped, making the hair stand
up on the heads of both voice teachers and the audience. Clark dazzled
with her performance, and except for an occasional microphone problem for
Olsen, it all went flawlessly.
Chorus soloists deserve special mention. They were sopranos Mina Kanaridis,
Mimi Ruiz and Sonja Wohlgemuth; altos Martha Horst, Dianne M. Terp and
Heidi L. Waterman; tenors Howard Baltazar, J. Wingate Greathouse and David
Peters; basses Jay Moorhead, Chad Runyon and David Varnum. Bravi!
This terrific musical event and the still-glowing memory of Michael Tilson
Thomas' presentations of classic musicals point to a simple conclusion -
"crossover" is easy and good when both the material and the performance
sparkle like this. There is no reason for the artificial separation
between "symphony," "opera" and "musicals." There is only good and bad,
and tonight was brilliant.
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