Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne
18 July, 2015

The seductive allure of musical theatre is increasingly attracting the attentions of the artistic directors of our nation’s opera companies, with the promise of commercial rewards and newly attracted audiences an opportunity too good to pass up. It might, superficially at least, feel like an easy gambit – surely the relative simplicity of musical theatre compared to the vocal powers needed to deliver opera would make the transition a cinch. But don’t be fooled: these two genres are very different beasts, and some shortcomings in the skills needed for the highest quality musical theatre has left a disappointingly conspicuous blemish on Victorian Opera’s otherwise highly accomplished performance of Stephen Sondheim’s macabre masterpiece, Sweeney Todd.

Perhaps Sondheim’s biggest hit to date, this penny dreadful inspired gothic horror of blood-soaked revenge, delicious cannibalism and tonsorial homicide has been an endlessly generous source for directors all over the world, particularly in its uncanny ability to scale up or pare back without any discernable impact on its musical or theatrical potency. Set in 1840’s London, Botany Bay escapee Benjamin Barker, transported for life after being falsely convicted by the corrupt Judge Turpin on trumped...