Apparently, Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics to “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” way back in 1959, is fine and dandy with the admittedly brilliant gimmick that has led, nearly 60 years later, to the umpteenth remounting of his 1979 masterwork “Sweeney Todd” in NYC after a successful run in London. Here, the ingenious designer Simon Kenny has refashioned the Barrow Street Theater into a working meat pie shop (one of the musical’s main settings), which also doubles as the unit set for Bill Buckhurst’s ultra-minimal and highly inventive staging. Just be prepared for having the show’s actors directly in your face, crawling on your table – or maybe even rubbing your head. (On the other hand, for $20, you can buy a delicious savory pie and mashed potatoes for a pre-show meal.)
But, as Sondheim knew, you need more than just a gimmick – and he’s got all he needs here for this production to shine. Buckhurst manages to find the perfect, and sometimes elusive, mix of macabre, mirth, and melodrama in Hugh Wheeler’s perfectly crafted book (adapted from Christopher Bond’s 1973 play) about the vengeful barber Sweeney Todd (real name, Benjamin Barker) and his partner-in-crime, Mrs. Lovett, the alternately and simultaneously love-struck, manipulative, loopy and pragmatic shopkeeper.
Yep, you’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you may even marvel that, by the end, there are more corpses than in the final scene of “Hamlet.” And you’ll leave humming every bit of Sondheim’s magnificently diverse score (along with the scenery), and immediately want to go back for seconds. (Even the three-piece orchestra is sufficiently wonderful!)
Much of the credit for the production’s success belongs to the stunningly chosen eight-person cast, four of whom hail from England. The booming-voiced Jeremy Secomb is laser-focused in his thirst for blood as Sweeney, yet still creating sympathy for his murderous mission. Siobhan McCarthy is pure genius as the multi-faceted Mrs. Lovett, relishing her own wicked sense of humor in “A Little Priest” or explaining her endearingly daffy dream of marital bliss in “By the Sea.” Joseph Taylor is deliciously innocent as the young Tobias (who sweetly croons the glorious “Not While I’m Around), while Duncan Smith is effective as the conflicted yet perverse Judge Turpin, who seduced Barker’s wife Lucy 15 years earlier and is now raising their daughter Johanna, whom he lusts after.
On the American side of the equation, Alex Finke deserves top honors (and an award or two) for making a true flesh-and-blood character of Johanna, often played as little more than a ditzy damsel in distress. The handsome Matt Doyle is her ideal counterpart as Antony, the naïve yet headstrong sailor, who falls instantly in love with her. Two-time Tony nominee Brad Oscar is properly pompous as the Judge’s henchman, Beadle Bamford, and lends his remarkably versatile voice to the many group numbers, and rising star Betsy Morgan is simply terrific in the dual roles of the half-mad beggar woman and Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli, who provides a welcome dose of comedy midway through the first act.
I’ve seen six previous New York productions of this show (including its original Broadway mounting), and this one may be my favorite. But even if you disagree with me on that particular point, you’ll have to concur with one of the show’s song titles: “God That’s Good.”
--Brian Scott Lipton
(Editor’s note: Broadway stars Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello will take over the roles of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, beginning on April 11.)
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Jeremy Secomb, Siobhán McCarthy, Duncan Smith, Joseph Taylor, Matt Doyle, Alex Finke, Betsy Morgan, Brad Oscar, Colin Anderson, Liz Pearce, Monet Sabel
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 2/14/2017
Barrow Street Theatre
27 Barrow Street
New York, NY 10014