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A CurtainUp Review
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
By Elyse Sommer
To borrow a phrase from another musical, though it hasn't been the best of all possible worlds on the political front, as a critic the past week has indeed been the best of all worlds: I got to see Stephen Sondheim's greatest master works — first Sunday in the Park With George at the newly reopened Hudson Theater on Broadway and, just three days later, London's Tooting Arts Club Sweeney Todd at it's totally reconfigured downtown home.
Both these viewings proved once again, that these shows are the musical equivalent of Shakespeare's plays: They are endlessly adaptable to new interpretations so that you can see them again and again, each time finding something new and refreshing to make you glad you came.
The current Sunday in the Park retains its masterwork status even though it eschews the spectacular set of its previous Broadway production. The terrific cast, the director successfully maximizing the more modest production values and, of course the glorious music won the day. Sweeney Todd seems to have spurred a particularly inventive spirit. For his ultra minimalist 2005 Broadway revival, John Doyle used a multi-tasking cast of actors who could act and sing and also play the instruments usually handled by an orchestra. It was a ground breaking hit.
The Tooting Arts Club's production is also brilliantly inventive but in a different way. While I feel the immersive trend is getting to be a bit overdone, director Bill Buckhurst's approach is great fun, without any sacrifice of the book's and lyrics' cleverness or the ravishing score. (To read my articel about the immersive trendgo here
Since the grisly thriller story has been done so much, including a 2007 movie with Johnny Depp, most people won't need a plot synopsis. I've therefore added it at the end of the production notes for anyone who needs a refresher. Suffice it to say that the grisly story is intact.
While the actors don't have to do double duty as the orchestra, they do get quite a workout via a curved staircase used for entrances and exits to the main stage, and often do their dancing and singing on top of and between the rows of the tables at which the audience is seated. In short, if you go, you'll be an integral part of the scenery!
The small theater is ideally suited for this intimate and atmospheric staging. Everything about this propulsive staging works beautifully. The melodramatic sequences involving Todd's bloody barbering especially powerful, both dramatically and musically. A bigger orchestra could hardly top the effectiveness of this production's chamber sized threesome (piano, violin and clarinet).
of course, with the masterful score and lyrics as ever the essential ingredients, none of this clever immersiveness would work without a cast who can deliver on all counts. And the Brits who pioneered the London hit do so with flying colors, as do the Americans who have now joined them.
Jeremy Secomb is an aptly embittered, scary Todd and brings a rich baritone voice to the role. His metamorphosis into an insanely vengeful man who can slit an unwitting customer's throat with calm efficiency is amazing. as for the crafty Mrs. Lovett, the baker of "The Worst Pies in London" Siobhan McCarthy brings the needed comic skills and vocal power to her part. The cast overall is terrifically satisfying in terms of acting and singing: Duncan Smith is a fine lecherous Judge Turpin. Johanna and Anthony (Alex Finke and Matt Doyle), the couple who in true melodramatic fashion will eventually be united, are aptly winning as well as fine singers. Broadway veteran and a while back a wonderful Tevye in Barrington Stage's Fiddler on the Roof is a strong-voiced, believable Beadle Bramford. Betsy Morgan is a double threat as the Beggar Woman and Adolfo Pirello. Joseph Taylor's Tobias Ragsdale adds the right Dickensian flavor.
And speaking of flavor, what about the pies? must be ordered ahead of time and require that you arrive at least a half an hour before show time. Even with mash and a drink they're a little overpriced at $20. But they are delicious and they do enrich the experience. And so, bon appetit!
Postscript: If you don't have a chance to get down to the Pie Shop, before April 11th, no worries. The all-American team taking of the main characters (Norm Lewis as Sweeney Todd, Carolee Carmello as Mrs. Lovett, Jamie Jackson as Judge Turpin and John-Michael Lyles as Tobias) are so stellar that I wouldn't mind going back for a second visit.
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Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler,based on an adaptation by Christopher Bond.
Tooting Arts Club production at Barrow Street Theatre www.SweeneyToddNYC.com
From an adaptation by Christopher Bond
Directed by Bill Buckhurst
Choreographer: Georgina Lamb
Music Supervisor and Arranger: Matt Stine
Cast (in order of speaking): Jeremy Secomb (Sweeney Todd), Matt Doyle (Anthony), Siobhan McCarthy (Mrs. Lovett), Betsy Morgan (Pirelli & Beggar Woman), Duncan Smith (Judge Turpin), Joseph Taylor (Tobias)Matt Doyle (Anthony), Alex Finke (Johanna), Brad Oscar (The Beadle).
Cast changes after 4/11: Norm Lewis (Sweeney Todd), Carolee Carmello (Mrs. Lovett), Jamie Jackson (Judge Turpin), John-Michael Lyles (Tobias)
Designer: Simon Kenny
Sound design by Matt Stine
Lighting design by Amy Mae
Fight Director: Bryce Birmingham
Vocal and dialect Coach: Ben Furey
Prop Master: Ray Wetmore
Chief Pie Maker: Bill Yosses
Musicians:M att Aument (Director, Piano), Tomoko Akaboshi(Violin), Michael Favro (Clarinet)
Stage Manager: Richard A. Hodge
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours with 1 intermission
Tooting Arts Club production at Barrow Street Theater www.SweeneyToddNYC.com
From 2/14/17; opening 3/01/17; closing 4/13/17-extended again and again, currently to 5/27/18.
The play's villain, Judge Turpin exiled Todd to Australia for fifteen years because he wanted Todd's lovely wife for himself. The play begins as the wronged husband's returns to London disguised as Sweeney Todd.
On hearing that his wife killed herself and his daughter Johanna has become the ward of the evil (and still lustful) Judge, Sweeney's bitterness turns totally toxic. This being a gothic melodrama, the barber's partnership with Mrs. Lovett turns her failing pie shop into a bloody success. But while Johanna is saved and finds true love, Todd is doomed to greater grief than ever when he learns that Mrs. Lovett has deceived him about the fate of his wife.
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