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Review: Sweeney Todd Delights with Blood, Bondage and Belly Laughs, Idaho Shakespeare Festival debuts macabre summer musical

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Boise Weekly, July 10, 2013

by Harrison Berry
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opens with a chorus of singers, their faces painted and eyebrows arched, waxing on the musical's titular character, who sends his victims “to their maker impeccably shaved.” This bit of wit sets the tone for the enigmatic Todd–played with gusto by Tom Ford in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of the musical–whose drive for vengeance is transmuted to comedy by irony in this charming rendition.

Stephen Sondheim's musical centers on a barber sentenced to exile when his wife becomes an object of lust for Judge Turpin (Darren Matthias). When the barber returns, he assumes the name of Sweeney Todd, vows revenge and shacks up with the unbalanced (and unsuccessful) meat pie chef Mrs. Lovett (Sara M. Bruner).

The plot thickens when it is revealed that Todd's daughter, Johanna, is the betrothed of the sneering Turpin; that Todd's only friend, Anthony Hope, is in love with Johanna; and that Todd's rival and would-be blackmailer, Adolfo Pirelli, has been given a Columbian necktie, leading to the dubious innovation of a chute, through which Todd slides his victims down to a bakery where Mrs. Lovett processes them into the best meat pies in London.

It's all executed with a tip of a hat, and many artful quips and puns that won belly laughs from the audience. The music, though not something one would want a significant other humming around the house, is lively and catchy, while the lyrics explore Todd and Lovett's ghastly enterprise.

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Ford and Bruner make a hell of a team. Ford's despondent visage puckers into a glower by the second act while Bruner's wild-eyed infatuation evolves into romantic desperation and insanity. Their gallows humor is livened by a blindness to their respective singular devotions and a large and kinetic cast.

But the highlight of ISF's Sweeney Todd is the props: Todd's shining, silver-handled straight razor and his plush, red barber's chair that pushes his victims down a chute into Lovett's bake house. Add to that buckets of blood and gore, a guffaw-inducing portrait of Todd and Lovett and a basement meat grinder oozing pink human sludge, and the macabre mood is set. The vibe also gets a healthy dose of darkness with Charlotte Yetman's costumes, resplendent with leather bondage-esque attire and glimmering surfaces.

Sweeney Todd is still a tragedy: The machine that sends the corpses to the kitchen ultimately reveals the horror of Todd, Lovett and Turpin's respective monomanias. But the tragedy of the ending didn't dampen the ISF audience, which was thrust out of its seats for applause when the cast took its bow opening night.

Click Here to Read More at Boise Weekly

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Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival makes evil fun in stylish production

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

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

Click to Read more at Idaho Statesman

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Who: Stitch Marker

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Getting to know one of the most familar faces on Boise's stages

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By Deanna Darr

Published in Boise Weekly July 25, 2012

Stitch Marker has one of the most recognizable faces in Boise—but then he should, considering he's in his 29th season with Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

Marker has played everyone from peasant to villain to king to comic relief and earned a place in the collective consciousness of area theater-goers in the process. He's been part of the beloved summer festival since the very beginning and watched the valley's theater scene transform over the decades from the vantage point of the stage.

What drew you to theater?

I was chronically shy … and I just sort of ended up in a drama class almost accidentally … and ended up in a play and I was terrified. I didn't talk to people much on a one-on-one basis, let alone in front of a whole group of people. But this acting coach I had was just so wonderful. He really coached us about getting into a role, letting the role sort of take you over, and it was so liberating I couldn't believe it. I think one of the first things I played was sort of a really assertive, aggressive, bullyish sort of a guy, and it felt great. It felt so liberating. I had permission to just let 'er bust, and I was just hooked from that point on out.

How did you get involved with Idaho Shakespeare Festival?

When I started here at [Boise State] in 1970, there really wasn't any kind of professional, or, I think, even semi-professional theater going on in Boise at that time. … I was just really fortunate to be in a class with a bunch of people who were really motivated theater people who were frustrated and wanted to get out on their own and do something exciting. So that core group of people started this theater we called Theater in a Trunk in a warehouse on 16th and Bannock. And out of that came the people who essentially started Idaho Shakespeare Festival. … Originally we were talking about doing Hair as a first production, but that was like a $10,000 royalty, blah, blah, and we were like, “Oh, real theater costs money? Well, we can't do real theater then.” We just decided on Shakespeare because it was dead and free.

What do you remember about your first performance?

What I just loved–what knocked me out–was the original location for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival was at Ray's Oasis, which is now Angell's. … At that time, they didn't have any of the trappings on the patio for the restaurant, so it was just bare space out there. Outside of acting on hard concrete, it was just perfect, just wonderful­–lots of really cool entrances and exits and just the environment was really magnificent to do a big play. We'd have to block off the streets in downtown and people would get so pissed off at us. They'd run barricades and yell at us and call us names because, of course, we're in tights. So we got a lot of verbal abuse that way. But when you weren't in a scene, a lot of the time you were up on one of the streets … just averting traffic.

How would you say Boise's theater scene has changed and where is it now?

I think Idaho Shakespeare Festival was a real pivot point for the direction of theater in the Treasure Valley. In the '70s, it became apparent that “Yeah, there's an audience here that's willing to pay and support a professional theater,” and so that was really the biggest door opening. … Touring, that was a really huge thing that I thought the festival was really smart to take on–educational, school-outreach tours. So that was maybe my favorite job I've ever had.

Do people still recognize you from that?

It's shocking, and they're getting quite old themselves–”Really, you saw me in high school and you're how old? 50?”

Why do you think the festival is so loved?

Just from the very first year, from the get-go, it was not just doing a play, it was an event. It was where you could go and have a picnic, eat and hang out on the lawn and drink, be as verbose as you wanted to be–be as sloppy drunk as you wanted to be.

What keeps you going back?

It's the scariest fun anybody could ever have. I think it's absolutely terrifying almost every time. You kind of get hooked on the fear. It's such a gratifying feeling.

Click here to view more of this interview on video and photos at Boise Weekly.

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