Sweeney Todd Still Thrills

Sweeney Todd Carolee Carmello Norm Lewis
Lucille Lortel award-winning Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theater had a change of cast in April. So, two P-C writers went to see the show again to discover what this version of the production would be like. One of us saw the original Barrow Street cast (and raved about the production); the other had never seen a live production of Sweeney Todd on stage. Both walked away from the show singing “Johanna” for the rest of the night. See what they each have to say:

 

SET & PRODUCTION:

Walking into “Harrington’s Pie Shop” was like stepping into a theatre candy shop—I want to gobble up the story by the handful. While Sweeney Todd‘s immersive approach is hardly new—thanks to the creative chutzpah of companies like Sleep No More‘s Punchdrunk Productions, immersive theatre is no longer the fringe franchise it once was—the pairing of it with one of the most notable and performed shows in the American musical theatre canon was a stroke of genius. Of course, the danger of immersive theatre is that it can feel gimmicky. Happily, this production never felt gimmicky, and instead used the intimacy of the space to its advantage. Cramming the audience into a small space and letting the actors roam freely throughout it highlighted a sense of egalitarianism that simmers beneath the surface of Sweeney Todd’s maniacal thirst for vengeance. It also allows the audience to feel that, even though they are all in a “hole in the world like a great black pit,” at least we’re all in it together. The simple, effective theatre tricks the show used—red flashes of light to signify murder; the use of candlelight to evoke a Victorian atmosphere—were also a charming thumb-biting to the overblown technical theatrics of big-budget Broadway shows. At the Barrow Street Theatre, less really is more. The focus was thus on the story and music, not on how bloody the make-up artists could make Todd’s victims or how elaborate the set designers could render a steam punk set. —Parissa

 

I still love this set and how the production is done; it transports you to a completely different time and place. The ambiance the small, immersive space creates is magical and really makes the audience feel like they have a role to play in the performance. Also, the set in general is just really well-built. The colored tile, the distressed yellow wall paint, the style of the menu board…all just fantastic. —Taraneh

 

Sweeney Todd Stacie Bono, Jamie Jackson, John-Michael Lyles

L-R: Stacie Bono as Pirelli, Jamie Jackson as Judge Turpin, and Carolee Carmello with John-Michael Lyles as Mrs. Lovett and Tobias

MUSIC:
The stripped-down orchestra is a perfect example of quality over quantity. Using only three musicians, the brilliant score was prominent and seamlessly was a part of the setting. —Taraneh

 

One of the most astonishing aspects of this production is how it can pull off so much with so little. With only three musicians and eight actors, the entire company filled the space with Stephen Sondheim’s gorgeous music. The actors even transformed everyday objects into instruments, thus making ordinary things into art. Though the musical arrangements were trimmed-down for a three-person orchestra, its simplicity gave the actors a little more room to interpret and project. —Parissa

 

ACTORS:
Seeing almost an entirely different cast was a true study in acting. Each of these new actors played their characters differently than their previous British counterparts. Norm Lewis made Todd more of a man pushed beyond his limits whereas Jeremy Secomb, the previous Todd, played him a little more traditionally crazy. Carolee Carmello was a delight to watch as Mrs. Lovett (so far, I have not ever seen a Mrs. Lovett I didn’t enjoy). Stacie Bono (Beggar Woman/Pirelli), Jamie Jackson (terrifically slimy as Judge Turpin), and John-Michael Lyles (Tobias) round out the new cast members. They all have rich voices and did fine jobs. Of course, Matt Doyle (Anthony), Alex Finke (Johanna), and Brad Oscar (The Beadle) continue to shine in their roles as well. —Taraneh

 

Who among you wouldn’t pay to hear Norm Lewis’s rich, heavenly voice give life to one of the most hellish anti-heroes in theatre? It was simply a thrill to hear Norm Lewis sing the beautiful score in such close proximity. This was actually the first time I had ever seen Sweeney Todd on stage, so I was expecting a Mr. Todd in line with the ones I had previously seen on screen—namely, Johnny Depp and Bryn Terfel. Lewis’s Sweeney Todd was cold, calculating, and subtle, not the cray-cray madman I was expecting. I think it worked, since it made Sweeney Todd and his murderous choices seem almost natural and human—in Norm Lewis’s care, Sweeney Todd wasn’t an exceptional madman; he was a pushed-over-the-edge everyman who had been conned out of his life. Sweeney Todd’s descent into violence was swift and could happen to anyone, unfortunately. Carolee Carmello’s Mrs. Lovett was, in a word, perfect. She was charmingly flighty, ballsy, and engaging, even as she was morally repugnant. The surprising standout of the cast was Jamie Jackson as the vile Judge Turpin. His Turpin was creepy, sinister, and a perfectly-realized villain. Jackson and Lewis’s “Pretty Women” duet was as chilling as it was exquisite. —Parissa

 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is at the Barrow Street Theater and runs until December. For tickets and more information, click here.

 

Photo Credits: Joan Marcus

Parissa

Parissa is a grad student. Aside from loving anything British (she'd make a great duchess), she is also passionate about theater, period dramas, and small college towns. She is excellent at movie trivia. Some of her favorite things include: The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Game of Thrones, and Outlander.

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