On Stage

On Stage

 

The Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi’s classically staged Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, offers a night full of stellar vocal performances and unexpected depth of acting in an often terrific but sometimes clumsy production.

Damian Gravino gives Sweeney Todd, the former barber returning to London from exile in search of revenge, a smoldering undertone of evil often absent in amateur stagings of Stephen Sondheim’s popular work. Gravino, along with Alene Aroustamian’s vibrant portrayal of Mrs. Lovett, leads a vocally deep ensemble cast into the bowels of industrial-age London. As strong as they are individually, together Aroustamian and Gravino are eminently watchable and bring a humanity and immediacy to the action of the show that few amateur productions are capable of achieving.

They are supported all around by strong performers. Emile Joy Lethcoe gives Johanna a playful charm, nicely complementing Bryan Vickery’s eager and earnest Anthony Hope. Their voices work beautifully together, and their chemistry and timing are nearly perfect during the show’s most complex musical moments, especially “Kiss Me” and its reprise. Mary Zastrow brings heat and intensity to the role of the Beggar Woman, giving “City on Fire” a needed sense of urgency and making the show’s climax all the more heartbreaking. Keith Barletta as an affable Pirelli, Marc Goldstein as Judge Turpin (excellent in his “Pretty Women” duet with Gravino), Randle Rankin as a refreshingly empathetic Beadle, and Jefferson Lanz as Jonas Fogg round out the supporting players — save for one.

When Frankie Rodruiguez’s Tobias Ragg makes his entrance during “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” in the first act, he is an eager if naive little boy scamming to make a penny or two and to please his master. Where Rodriguez takes his character, and his transformation in doing so, is perhaps this production’s highlight. Director David Ralphe obviously spent considerable time with his actors, and it shows throughout this cast; and in the final moments of the show Rodriguez’s portrayal of Tobias is heart-rending.

Unfortunately, much as Sweeney Todd’s 19th-century London residents struggle with their city and its challenges, the performers here struggle with their set, their props and sometimes the difficulties of the music itself. Clumsy scene transitions and overly long set changes lead to dead moments onstage, and more than once, members of the cast bumped into or knocked over furniture or set pieces. At a key moment, a prop seemed to be missing, momentarily flummoxing the performers, and a late entrance by the chorus in the second act made for an awkward transition back into a key scene in Act 2.

Many of these kinks will be worked out as the company becomes more comfortable with the set and the props during the course of the run, but they did detract notably from a Sweeney Todd of otherwise highest quality.


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, through July 13. Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, Simi Valley. For more information, call 583-7900 or visit www.simi-arts.org.

On Stage

On Stage

 

It’s not often, in fact it’s downright rare, that Ventura County theatergoers can say, “I walked into a theater and Ron Rezac was already dying on stage.” But that’s just what happens in Flying H’s new production of The Lyons. Rezac, a longtime local favorite, lies dying in a hospital bed before the lights even go on. And once we meet his family, we see why death might not be such a bad option.

The Lyons family shows affection in the most caustic and awkward ways. The verbal assault from bombastic matriarch Rita (Sindy McKay) literally begins the moment the lights go up, leveling her husband and everyone else in her path the way rushing water erodes even the mightiest stone over time.

Though her husband is dying of cancer Rita denies he’s got a chance to get to heaven, or even hell for that matter. “After all,” she chides without missing a crochet stitch, “who are you to get into hell? You’re just a little man with little sins.” She goes on in detail about how she’s going to redecorate, complaining that their couch was once new but is now “one shade of washed-out hopes.”

This same sense of disillusionment is passed on from father to son. “My life is one long parade of disappointments,” the elder tells son Curtis, “and you are the grand marshal.”

Despite Ben and Rita’s absurd attempts at intervention, their daughter didn’t turn out the way they hoped either. Lisa (played with a pitch blend of sympathy and bitterness by Javiera Torres) bounces between hilarious and pitiful. Lisa’s an alkie who can’t seem to land a man, a problem shared with her brother, Curtis (the intense Eric Mello), who can’t get a boyfriend either, but instead makes them up to placate his family. And who can blame him for creating a fantasy world? With family like this who needs enemies?

Curtis’ quest for love and acceptance takes a turn for the psychotic when he bases one of his imaginary lovers on his realtor neighbor Brian (Stan McConnell) and crosses the line by scheduling an appointment to view one of Brian’s listings. Rather than getting him closer to the object of his desire, the appointment goes horribly wrong and soon the youngest Lyon is replacing the elder in the hospital.

It’s here that Curtis receives a life lesson from his nurse (Annie Zirbel), who gives in to Curtis’ request to be honest. “There are two kinds of people: happy people and people who are lonely, mean and sad.” Not much of a stretch to realize she thinks he’s one of the latter.

A story with such family dysfunction would need to be funny, and the cast breathes life into the script with equal parts wit and sarcasm. Even when Mello is ranting about the state of the world, and we’re starting to really despise him, his mother does something even more absurd, and we have to laugh at our own good fortune for not having been born into the Lyons family. 


The Lyons through June 22 at Flying H Productions, 6368 Bristol Road, Ventura. 901-0005 or www.flyinghgroup.com.

 

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