Not one but two productions now playing in Long Beach feature mid-19th century London as their primary setting. This Victorian era provides an amusing backdrop for ICT's family-friendly "Shipwrecked! An Entertainment" even as it serves as a vengeful killer's horrifying home in Long Beach Playhouse's revival of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
"Shipwrecked!," written by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies, is subtitled "The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself)." De Rougemont was a real person. He left England as a young man and claimed to have been subsequently marooned in the South Pacific and Australian Outback for 30 years. When he returned to London, his tale found great popularity but was also discounted by scholars and other authorities.
Margulies, director Luke Yankee and all involved in ICT's production have great fun in helping audience members suspend any and all disbelief. Jud Williford plays de Rougemont with charismatic flair while two other actors play approximately 40 other characters between them. Laurine Price is fine in a variety of female and male roles, but young Nick Ley astonished the opening night crowd with his physicality as Bruno, de Rougemont's devoted dog, Queen Victoria and a hapless sailor devoured by a giant octopus, among others. Price and Ley also provide a wide range of sound effects throughout the show.
"Shipwrecked!" is performed on a mostly bare stage, with a large chest doubling as both storage and the giant sea turtles de Rougemont claimed to have rode upon. A variety of excellent overhead projections augment the argely suggested proceedings.
I feel Margulies's play would have worked better as a one-act of 90 minutes or so. The second act gets long, especially for kids. Still, it is as entertaining as the title promises. Performances continue through Nov. 6. Tickets may be purchased by visiting ictlongbeach.org or calling (562) 436-4610.
Stephen Sondheim's London-set musical "Sweeney Todd," meanwhile, receives a surprisingly accommodating reception on the Playhouse's small Studio stage. I was concerned going in about how even a scaled-down cast of 17 would fit, especially since all of them are on stage together at numerous points. Turns out I needn't have worried.
Director Sean F. Gray and choreographer Halley Hardy masterfully commandeer their actors through Gray's impressive, fog- and smoke-shrouded set. Unfortunately, they and music director Stephen Olear weren't quite as successful guiding the cast through one of Sondheim's notoriously challenging scores. Some lyrics were rushed to the point of incomprehensibility. The gory morality tale boasts abundant word play and humor, but some of these were lost on opening night.
All of the actors provide strong characterizations. Noah Wagner is a frighteningly effective presence as Sweeney and has singing volume to spare, but was flat at times. As Mrs. Lovett, Playhouse regular Harriet Whitmyer was endearingly conniving but also mangled some of her lyrics during the opening performance.
David Fairchild makes a creepy yet sexier-than-usual Judge Turpin, the musical's chief villain, with Robert Fetes amusingly sinister as Beadle Bamford, Turpin's toady. The best singers in the cast are Anissa Leeanna Loer, playing Sweeney's daughter Johanna, and Dennis Dyck as her suitor, Anthony.
While the performance results may have been mixed, the Playhouse's revival of Sondheim's classic may get better as it goes on. "Sweeney Todd" runs through Nov. 12 and tickets may be purchased at lbplayhouse.org or by calling (562) 494-1014.