The Tooting Arts Club’s exceptionally entertaining production of Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s glorious murderous musical, began in 2014 in Harrington’s, one of London’s oldest working pie shops. An impressively detailed replica of Harrington’s has now set up shop Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theater, including the pies.
For an extra $20, theatergoers can dine on meat pies (or, if they insist, vegetable pies) baked by President Obama’s White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, served with a side of the most tasty mashed potatoes you will ever eat, along with a green herb sauce known as liquor.
The meat in the pies is chicken, for those wondering. Here’s the recipe.
Once the picnic-style tables are cleared of the pre-show plates, the tale of Sweeney Todd can begin, the intimate staging adding something new to the clever retelling of the demon barber of Fleet Street, who slashes the throats of his victims, and the loving Mrs. Lovett downstairs, the enterprising shopkeeper who makes pies out of the corpses, legal ingredients being so expensive these days.
The eight-member cast frequently performs atop the tables inches from the audience, or sits alongside us on the benches. In one memorable moment, Jeremy Secomb as Sweeney Todd stuck his hardened face right up against a theatergoer sitting at the end of one of the benches, and barked: “Move.” The man scooted over, so that Sweeney would have room on the bench right next to him to strangle the beggar woman. One could argue that we are thus uncommonly (and uncomfortably) confronted with the gore, as well as implicated in it, but the effect is actually more fun than scary. (Director Bill Buckhurst stages the on-stage killings in a stylized if not downright stylish manner, the actors freezing and bathed in red light.)
Secomb as Sweeney Todd and Siobhán McCarthy as Mrs. Lovett are two of the four holdovers from the London production, and their simultaneously chilling and hilarious performances are reason enough to make this a must-see show. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the musical moment when McCarthy suggests what Sweeney can do with the bodies:
Think of it as thrift
As a gift …
If you get my drift
The other four cast members are welcome additions for the New York transfer. Matt Doyle, the swoon-worthy young veteran of such Broadway hits as War Horse, The Book of Mormon and Spring Awakening, portrays the aptly-named Anthony Hope, who rescued Sweeney after the barber escaped his wrongful imprisonment at the hands of the lecherous Judge Tupin (Duncan Smith, another terrific holdover from London.) Anthony falls in love with Johanna (the lovely Alex Finke, who portrayed Cosette in the recent Broadway revival of Les Miz), who is Sweeney’s long-lost daughter.
Brad Oscar, the DC-born actor who was so hilarious as Nostradamus in Something Rotten, is sufficiently insufferable as the Beadle, though there is a wink in the performance.
The music for Sweeney Todd is provided by a three-piece band, but that’s plenty sufficient in the small space of the 130-seat “pie shop” (which as a normal theater seats 200.)
Barrow Street Theater is in the century-old Greenwich House Settlement House, which only began offering quality theater two decades ago with Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde, written and directed by Moises Kaufman, a production that more or less launched his career, and that of the theater itself.
This production of Sweeney Todd somehow feels just as seminal
Sweeney Todd is on stage at the Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue South in the Village, New York, N.Y. 10014) through August 13, 2017
Tickets and details
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street . Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler, from an adapation by Christopher Bond. Directed by Bill Buckhurst, set and costume design by Simon Kenny, music supervision and arrangement by Benjamin Cox, choreography by Georgina Lamb, lighting design by Amy Mae, sound design by Matt Stine, pie making by Bill Yosses, music director and piano by Matt Aument, violin by Tomoko Akaboshi, clarinet by Michael Favreau. Featuring Jeremy Secomb as Sweeney Todd, Siobhán McCarthy as Mrs. Lovett, Matt Doyle as Anthony Hope, Alex Finke as Johanna Barker, Betsy Morgan as beggar woman/Adolfo Pierelli, Brad Oscar as Beadle Bamford, Duncan Smith as Judge Turpin, Joseph Taylor as Tobias Ragg. Reviewed by Jonathan Mandell.