Talk about your slash and burn.

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," Stephen Sondheim's brilliant, bloody opera/musical is exactly that: a lot of slashing and a bit of burning.

And Arizona Onstage Productions, which opened the mammoth piece on Saturday, indulged itself - and us - with the full musical in all its lush, complex and horrific glory.

This is not an easy play to do. It requires a huge chorus, some soaring, solid voices, and an expertise in acting.

And then there are the technical aspects - it calls for a roaring furnace, a pie shop, a London street scene and a barber's chair on a top floor that dips and deposits bodies into the basement for grinding and cooking into Mrs. Lovett's meat pies.

Kevin Johnson, founder of Arizona Onstage and director of this production, showed no fear in tackling "Sweeney Todd."

While there were a few technical glitches at Friday's preview (seen at Johnson's request), and some clumsy scene changes that should be smoothed out by today's matinee, there was much, more more to admire than not.

The 40-strong chorus for one, which opened with the thundering "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." To hear a chorus sing that song, which lays out the story of Todd, a barber intent on revenge, is a thrill. If that doesn't get the chills started, then this will: Kit Runge's deep, delicious voice, shaved head and dark demeanor in his riveting portrayal of Todd. And Jacinda Rose Swinehart's flirtatious, comedic and macabre take on Mrs. Lovett, whose meat pies are stuffed with the flesh from the dead bodies that stack up in her basement, courtesy of Todd's razor. Brian Levario, a regular on the AOP stage, gave perhaps his most nuanced performance in his role of Tobias, the unwitting accomplice in the multiple murders that take place.

There were strong voices all around, but some missteps in the acting arena. Brian Witkowski, in the role of Anthony, was hampered by his inability to portray his character's interior life. And Lyle Brown's Beadle - one of the bad guys in a play full of them - was more comfortable singing than acting.

At the center of the play is a mammoth set piece that got quite a work-out at the preview as it was pushed on and off stage, turned around and generally became more of a hindrance than a help - were it not for that, the nearly three-hour production would have had a better pace.

The clumsy piece, however, was overcome by startlingly beautiful lighting by Erik Michael.

This is a huge production for this small company. While there were problems, there was much more joy in seeing - and hearing - this "Sweeney Todd."


Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

• By: Stephen Sondheim.

• Presented by: Arizona Onstage Productions.

• Director: Kevin Johnson.

• When: 3 p.m. today and next Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

• Where: Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave

• Tickets: $37.50, with discounts available.

• Reservations/information: www.arizonaonstage , 882-6574.

• Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes, with one intermission.