The inclination is to spurn Sweeney Todd, once his gruesome enterprise becomes evident.
A second thought? Relegate his acts to English farce.
But these impulses soon fade.
They give way to rooting for Sweeney, a troubled antihero played by Brett Mallard in the Pentucket Players' production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
The musical celebrates the company's 25th anniversary. It opens Friday, Nov. 16, at Haverhill City Hall Auditorium and continues through the weekend, with two shows Saturday, Nov. 17, and the finale Sunday, Nov. 18.
In a recent sneak peak of the production, the 37-member cast performed several choice cuts.
Among them, Sweeney Todd’s return to London after 14 years of false imprisonment, sentenced by the nefarious Judge Turpin.
Also, the scene in which Mrs. Lovett, a meat-pie maker, played by Penny Kohut, divulges a diabolical scheme to Sweeney Todd. Her explanation and his understanding slowly unfold and the effect is comedy.
Think of shepherd’s pie topped by real shepherd, as said in the lyrics.
Mallard lends mystery and complexity to the wronged Sweeney as he takes matters into his own hands.
Love, too, vies for a place in the darkness. Anthony, played by Paul Gymziak, and Joanna, by Sophia Barbato, seek each other in the midst of the craziness.
Interwoven plot lines twist and turn. A straight razor gets wet. And shifting musical patterns underscore the action in fog-bound London.
Warren Zevon would be proud.
Mallard and others in the cast praise the musical’s richness, the lyrics’ depth and connection to the story and its characters — all playing off one another.
“At every rehearsal, I hear something different,” Mallard said.
It’s one of those shows that takes hold of you. “I can never get enough,” he said,
Music director John Eldridge carries the score and an array of voices complement its rhythmic changes.
For the intrusive and mentally unbalanced Beggar Woman, played by Eileen Lorenco, the prevailing sentiment is pity.
Lorenco says the musical is operatic and intricate with shifting rhythms and quartets involving people all over the stage.
“I have been dying to do this,” she said.
Assorted minor characters play a cumulative major role in the drama, each generating a feeling that reflects a side of Sweeney Todd’s revenge-driven character.
Anger, delight, melancholy and mystery.
Evan Denmark plays The Beadle, the lackey for the judge.
Denmark, who was trained in opera, both academically and in performance, said Sondheim has engineered raw power in the musical. The result is beauty.
"Sweeney Todd" combines operatic qualities with those of a Broadway musical, he said.
Mallard said the musical poses an exciting challenge for actors: Taking on the characters’ peaks and valleys; managing the drama's overlapping story lines embedded in the lyrics.
This is Mallard’s second crack at Sweeney Todd. His first was 19 years ago. This time he has decades of adult experiences to bring to the role, to recognize and understand an intriguing character.
What he and others have come to recognize is that Sweeney Todd is not so unfamiliar a fellow as many might think.
IF YOU GO
What: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," presented by Pentucket Players
When: Friday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 17, 1 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 18, 1 p.m.
Where: Haverhill City Hall Auditorium, 4 Summer St., Haverhill
How much: $28
More information: pentucketplayers.org
Sophia Barbato: Joanna
Chris Barker: Ensemble
Evan Denmark: The Beadle
William Donelan: Ensemble
Eileen Lorenco: Beggar Woman
Chris Albrecht: Ensemble
Rob Charette: Judge Turpin
Ava Membreno: Ensemble
Virginia Szmyt: Ensemble
Kathy DeNicola: Ensemble
Joyce Jimenez: Ensemble
Cory Cocchiaro: Pirelli
Cait Cole: Ensemble
Jenn Lynch Jata: Ensemble
Trey Lynch: Ensemble
Cameron Mulcahy: Ensemble
Patrick Oteri: Ensemble
Risa Kapp Annicchiarico: Assistant music director
Liam Gustafson: Ensemble
Kayla Marquis Fernekes: Ensemble
Alison Labrecque: Ensemble
Chelsea de Tollenaere: Ensemble
Dori Bush: Ensemble
Annmarie Morse: Ensemble
Emily Surett: Ensemble
Julia Arey: Ensemble
Jack Girardi: Toby
Samantha Chapman: Ensemble
Paul Gymziak: Anthony
Penny Kohut: Mrs. Lovett
Nicole Cerullo: Ensemble
Katrina Bradley: Ensemble
Anne Louise Breslin: Ensemble
Kellyn Campbell: Ensemble
Patrick Kairis: Ensemble
Brett Mallard: Sweeney Todd
Dan Merriman: Ensemble