I’ve always said that September First marks a new year, with more new beginnings and resolutions than we encounter in January. Yes, but I have some previous commitments I must honour. Case in point: Sweeney Todd, the Sondheim “musical thriller” (as he called it) that I saw last week at the Shaw Festival Theatre.
First, let me say that I don’t like standing ovations. I think they are often knee-jerk reactions on the part of an audience that doesn’t know much about theatre. People stand up because they think they should, that it’s part of the applause at the end of a pleasing (but seldom outstanding) production. Others follow because they have to stand up to keep the performers in sight. I don’t give standing ovations. I’ll tell you one I gave 34 years ago for a performance that remains in my memory to this day.
The late, immensely talented, skilled, versatile, sensitive actor Heath Lamberts, C.M. (1941-2005), played Cyrano de Bergerac at the Shaw in 1982, winning a Dora Mavor Moore Award in 1984 after repeating his performance at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (1983-84). His Cyrano was the best I have ever seen. He wasn’t handsome, neither good-looking nor physically impressive, definitely not a romantic leading man, He used this deficiency along with the obvious handicap of the famous nose to heighten the poignancy of his unidentified declarations of love for Roxanne. For me it was a foot-stomping, crying, sighing, shouting, standing ovation.
I do have a point.
The Shaw production of Sweeney Todd this summer earned another such ovation, this time for ensemble playing. Benedict Campbell as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street was sympathetic and then terrifying, matched by his partner in butchery, Mrs. Lovett, played by Corrine Koslo. The rest of the cast was equally strong.
The retiring artistic director, Jackie Maxwell, goes out on a cloud of glory with this achievement.
Ave atque vale.
P.S.It helps to have a brilliant script.