By Sandi Durell
Harringtons has moved to the Barrow Street Theatre where the Demon Barber is back performing his gory deeds with the cast of the Tooting Arts Club, straight from London, and the newly inaugurated members from the States. It’s a bloody business watching Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s original production, adapted by Christopher Bond, unfold at the Pie and Mash shop where audience members are seated on long benches at long tables in this newly imagined and immersive experience.
I was there for a pre-show bite – meat, chicken or vegetable pie they asked. Well, it surely wasn’t going to be meat!! No, this was not your usual Sweeney Todd by any means. The long counter that dispenses the pies and drinks pre- show is part of the clever staging and design by Simon Kenny, along with the Victorian costumes.
It’s all very mysterious, dim and dark . . . dark in many respects. Where is the stage? What . . . only three musicians? And then the magic begins to unfold as a door is opened above steps near the bar, the actors appear around the room, an eerie light is shed as “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” unfolds. It’s all so cleverly conceived. . a wildly wonderful booming, yet treacherous, Jeremy Secomb as the manic barber Sweeney (the once Benjamin Barker) who returns to London after 15 years of exile for revenge on the evil Judge Turpin (a bombastic and lively Duncan Smith); Sweeney’s wife Lucy raped by Turpin, his child Johanna (Alex Finke) taken in as a ward of the Judge. And no one knows the real truth except for the local baker of meat pies, Mrs. Lovett (a hearty, feisty and funny Siobhan McCarthy), now fallen on hard times because of the lack of fresh meat.
The spectacular London cast has been joined by the heart rending Matt Doyle as Anthony Hope, the young suitor helplessly in love with the ethereal, golden voiced Johanna. When he sees an ally in Todd, they collaborate on Todd’s terms. Meanwhile, dear Mrs. Lovett produces Sweeney’s razors as Todd’s plan of revenge takes shape, one slit throat at a time! No room for barber chairs here – just a blasting red light, bloody hands and many stained red cloths are all one needs to make the point.
Judge Turpin’s trusty, evil and conniving servant Beadle Bamford (the hysterically funny Brad Oscar) is also on Sweeney’s list. But first Sweeney must prove his muster as the ultimate barber giving the closest, smoothest of shaves, which he does in a competition with fake Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli (here played by Betsy Morgan, who also does creepy justice as the Beggar Woman). Pirelli’s simple-minded assistant Tobias is embodied by young Joseph Taylor (London cast), eventually taken in and cared for by Mrs. Lovett (“Not While I’m Around”).
Sweeney becomes more and more desperate to take revenge as the Judge eludes him. Turpin, spurned by Johanna, whom he has decided to marry, takes his revenge by putting her in the lunatic asylum where her suitor will never get at her.
You won’t miss a beat of the exciting Sondheim brilliance that continuously pulsates in this operetta enveloping the audience – – “Mrs. Lovett’s “Poor Thing” and “By the Sea” (when she makes her play for Sweeney in Act II). The enticing “Pretty Women” (Secomb and Smith) leave you on the edge just when you think Sweeney is about to do the deed.
The extraordinarily sensitive “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” is a gloriously produced vocal by Alex Finke and Matt Doyle is exquisite in his rendition of “Johanna.”
When it comes to comedy at it’s best, try Brad Oscar on for size – “Ladies in Their Sensitivities, ” “Parlour Songs” where he had an especially good time playing to Jane Krakowski who happened to be in the audience.
Of course, you know that Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies become the best in London, what with the ‘new meat’ she’s been using in her recipes – “A Little Priest” (Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett).
It’s chaos and laughter, and oh so playfull, as these Fleet Street merrymakers appear and disappear, crawling and walking on and about the tables, involving audience members in this gruesome tale of retribution. And you won’t miss the macabre and horror of it all – it crawls on your skin to be dealt with accordingly.
The direction by Bill Burkhurst will knock your socks off, accessorized with Georgina Lamb’s choreography. The delicate lighting design is by Amy Mae with sound by Matt Stine. Matt Aument directs the band and plays the score, along with Tomoko Akaboshi on violin and Michael Favreau on clarinet. Additional cast members in the shop are Colin Anderson and Monet Sabel.
Having seen two revivals of this remarkable Sondheim work, I can honestly say this one is the best of the lot in my opinion. Less is most assuredly more!
You can buy a ticket with or without a pie and beverage. And everyone leaves the pie shop at intermission soon to meet up with the cast in the lobby for re-entry. It’s a hot ticket and so are the pies. The show runs 2 hours, 45 minutes with a 20 minute break.
Come April the cast will change as Norm Lewis takes over the title role, alongside Carolee Carmello as Mrs. Lovett.
www.sweeneytoddnyc.com Tickets: 866-811-4111 runs thru December 31
Photos: Joan Marcus