Fans of Steven Sondheim’s dark musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, will enjoy the North East School of the Arts (NESA) version at Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio this weekend. Donald Braswell II’s sixteen year old daughter, Aria Braswell, stars as Johanna, in the four-day run (February 27, 28, March 1 and 2) of the show.
Thursday’s opening night and tonight’s show demonstrated how remarkable the NESA students are. They brilliantly tackled roles and songs that are difficult even for seasoned actors, including mastering British accents.
Topping the list is Lizzie Poncio. Her portrayal of the macabre pie maker, Mrs. Lovett, commands the stage with a powerful performance and Cockney humor. She sounds and looks remarkably like Angela Lansbury.
Octavio de la Peña, who played the heartthrob Link in the school’s presentation of Hairspray last fall, now eerily becomes the demonic Sweeney Todd a.k.a. Benjamin Barker. Claire Johanson is tragicly convincing in her role of the half-crazed beggar woman.
Aria Braswell and Isaac Palma shine in their performances in the love match between Sweeney’s daughter Johanna and seaman Anthony Hope. Braswell’s soprano is amazing and Palma’s tenor was outstanding. Their timing on the difficult “Kiss Me” song was perfect.
Peter Gertas, who was terrific as the father in last year’s Hairspray, also nailed the pure evil of Judge Turpin. Another light-hearted favorite from Hairspray, Josh Roach, made a great transition to the threatening cohort of Turpin, Beadle Bamford.
Mercedes Johnson as the competing barber Pirelli showed her mettle on Friday night when the fog machines set off the fire alarms a second time during her solo. She and the orchestra carried on beautifully without missing a beat.
Travis Anderson as Perelli’s simple-minded assistant Tobias Ragg, and Zelda Zieball as the asylum’s owner Joanas Fogg round out the fabulous cast. The ensemble of zombie-like townspeople were Isaac Navarro, Alexandra Nevarez, Alexa Rivas, Zelda Ziebell, Casey Conner, Caili Crow, Mairin Derk, Macaela Mize, Sara Sargent, Jessica Scott, Tanya Skovorodina, Yleana Wooten, Sean Conroy, Sarah Cosgrove, Tamir Meishar, and Derek Miller.
The quick-paced songs of the musical are very challenging, but the cast make them seem easy. The students at NESA are at the top of their game. It is clear some are destined to make their mark on the world.
Behind the scenes, countless students made the show successful. From lighting, sound, makeup, staging, sets, costuming, ushers and escorts to the spectacular orchestra; everyone put their hearts into the evening and it showed.
Working and performing in the dark with large moving sets can be treacherous and everyone is to be commended. People are encouraged to consider seeing one of the remaining shows:
When: March 1, 2014 (7:30pm) and March 2 (2:30pm matinee)
Where: The Lee Theater, Robert E. Lee High School, 1400 Jackson Keller Road, San Antonio, Texas
Tickets: $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Box office 210.356.1036.
NESA draws top performing students, who audition to get into the program. The shows are always top notch, dirt cheap and not to be missed. Graduates have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to some of the top performing arts colleges in the country.