Sweeney Todd is one of my favorite musicals of all time. I remember seeing that musical for the first time. It was horrifying and beautiful. That was one of my first introductions to Stephen Sondheim’s work and while I’ve dabbled in Sondheim here (“Into the Woods” and “Assassins”) I’ve never had the pleasure of being in Sweeney Todd. But I did have the immense pleasure of winning the lottery to this production of Sweeney Todd at Barrow Street Theatre. Needless to say I was excited. Now this was a completely immersive experience. From the beginning, the cast walked around and talked to the audience and plenty of the blocking took place on the tables that that audience sat at. It was incredible. It was done with the bare minimum. All of the principles doubled as the ensemble and you watched each quick change, each transformation into a different character from scene to scene. All except Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovette. The actress who played Mrs. Lovette was gold. She was hysterical. She played the humor to the nth degree and it worked very well. It is just a wonderful balance to Sweeney’s macabre demeanor. That’s what’s wonderful about this musical; while it is obviously very dark and violent, the musical is extremely funny. The love story between Antony and Joanna was the funniest and most awkward portrayal I’ve seen yet. Given that they barely know each other and it is mostly love at first sight, it worked perfectly; it made sense.
I made many new discoveries with this musical this time around. The relationships formed in this production were formed very clearly. Of course, every scene, every beat was probably rehearsed to death given the close proximity to the audience. The intentions had to be so clear with every beat, every line. Of course, that’s how all productions should be but this production was special. Half of the stage was the ground and the other half was the tables that we all sat at. Antony’s beautiful rendition of “Joanna” was all sung on a table right where I was sitting. It was beautiful. The beggar woman came up to me begging for money. Mind you the actress who played the beggar woman also played the male, Italian barber Pirelli. The main characters all played their part, and then some. The one actor who surprised me was the man who played the Beadle, Judge Turpin’s henchman. The actor played the Beadle flamboyant and it was extremely amusing. I never thought much of that character of the Beadle and once again, this production surprised me. It gave the character a perspective, an opinion that I cared about. I cared about every character in this production. Well, all except the Judge who was written to be an evil, despicable character, which definitely translated. What I enjoyed was that they didn’t try to change the musical too much. They didn’t change the text. They merely placed it somewhere that audiences are not used to. But it made perfect sense to be staged in a pie shop. It was very simple, the whole production stripped down and it worked out well, which is why this production has remained so popular. It’s an experience unlike anything else in this city in my opinion. This production has extended its run multiple times. I’m just grateful they’ve stayed open long enough for me to witness it.