Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Tooting Arts Club originated this innovative version of Sondheim and Wheeler’s dark musical at London’s oldest pie and mash shop where it had a sold-out run followed by another in the West End. Luckily for us, Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop has been lovingly recreated at the Barrow Street Theatre so we are able to see this wonderful production, including the four leads from London. With his dead eyes, hollow cheeks and slicked-back hair, Jeremy Secomb is a very scary Todd. Any vocal shortcomings are more than made up for by his commanding presence. Siobhan McCarthy is as fine a Mrs. Lovett as I have seen. Duncan Smith is strong as Judge Turpin and Joseph Taylor is wonderful as Tobias. (Starting in April, these four will be replaced by American actors including Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello). Brad Oscar is surprisingly subdued as the Beadle. Matt Doyle and Alex Finke make a fine pair of young lovers as Anthony and Johanna. Betsy Morgan plays two roles: she is fine as the beggar woman, but I am not sure that casting any woman as Pirelli was a good idea. Much of the action takes place near the counter at the front of the pie shop, but the actors occasionally hop up on the four long tables that are perpendicular to the counter and move around other parts of the shop as well. I was amazed that the music was provided by just three musicians — a pianist, a violinist and a clarinetist; they serve the score well. The stripped-down staging works fine throughout the first act, but falters slightly in the last minutes, when the action intensifies quickly. It’s not really a problem. Simon Kenny gets credit for the wonderful set and costumes. Georgina Lamb is listed as choreographer, but there is very little dance in the traditional sense. Fight director Bryce Bermingham does an effective job. Kudos to director Bill Buckhurst for holding everything together. It’s a unique theatrical experience that I highly recommend. I also suggesting ordering the pre-show pot pie and mash for $20 with beverage. The delicious chicken or vegetarian pies are the creation of former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including intermission.

A few words about seating: All the seating is on benches that have upholstered seats but wooden backs and no arms. The seats in rows A through F are perpendicular to the front of the shop. If you are in rows B through E, be prepared to have actors performing on your table. Rows G and H are parallel to the front of the shop and provide a good overall view. Rows AA and BB are in the balcony.

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