Sweeney Todd

Barrow Street Theatre, New York
2017-05-20 • 14:30

This environmental production of Sweeney Todd originated in London, where I chose not to see it — I’ve seen too many productions of Sweeney Todd to be attracted by a small scale affair… and there have been environmental productions of Sweeney Todd before (I remember seeing a particularly good one at the Bridewell Theatre in London — twice, actually).

However, since I had time, I decided to give this New York transfer a try… all the more as the leads are now played by two famous actors, Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello.

Playing Sweeney Todd on such a small scale raises many challenges, which are mostly addressed in a satisfactory manner by director Bill Buckhurst. However, I didn’t quite understand why the set included a board with prices in modern pounds and pence (and a smiley face) as well as a UK electrical socket in plain view (used to power an electric display in the second act).

The infamously complex second act doesn’t play well in a completely fixed setting: scenes that follow one another in rapid succession happen in Mrs. Lovett’s shop, in Todd’s parlour above the shop and in the basement, to name but a few locations. An audience member who had no knowledge of the play would be hard pressed to understand the changes in locales.

It is also quite a shame that this production has given up on singing Todd’s letter to the Judge. It is a notoriously difficult passage to get right musically, but it is an integral part of the score.

Finally, I was shocked that the production allowed the actors to make physical contact with audience members, thus breaking what I hold to be one of the sacred conventions of theatre. I am glad I was safely seated in the mezzanine; I would have left the theatre without any hesitation had it happened to me.

(The Beadle was played by an understudy. As often, he gave a stellar performance — possibly the best one of all. What a wonderful voice.)

Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim. Book: Hugh Wheeler.
Directed by Bill Buckhurst. With Norm Lewis (Sweeney Todd), Carolee Carmello (Mrs. Lovett), Matt Doyle (Anthony), Alex Finke (Johanna), John-Michael Lyles (Tobias), Stacie Bono (Beggar Woman / Adolfo Pirelli), Jamie Jackson (Judge Turpin), Colin Anderson (Beadle Bamford [understudy]).

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