It is a tribute to the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim’s art that two so different productions of his work are now staged in New York. Uptown on Broadway, Sunday in the Park with George illuminates the creative mind of Georges Seurat, and downtown on Barrow Street, at the Barrow Street Theater, TheTooting Art Club’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street inspires terror. With the theater tricked out as a pie shop, the audience seated at long tables designed for pub dining, the actors maneuver in your face, no matter that the play is essentially about a serial killer, a decent man brought low by the vagaries of Dickensian fate, his sidekick a woman trading in meat pies and, eh, alternate truths.
As Sweeney Todd, Jeremy Secomb is big and menacing, bullying the audience and actors alike. The excellent company, including Alex Finke as his daughter,Matt Doyle as Anthony Hope, a sailor who saved his life, Betsy Morgan as both the mysterious beggar woman and Pirelli, a rival barber, Brad Oscar as Beadle Bamford, and Joseph Taylor as Tobias Ragg, a novice in the kitchen, work the crowd as is now the custom in immersive theater. Favorite songs as “There’s No Place Like London,” “Pretty Women,” Todd’s duet with Judge Turpin (Duncan Smith), and the haunting “Joanna” are beautifully done in juxtaposition with Todd’s machinations with the incomparable Mrs. Lovett. Siobhan McCarthyinhabits this role with a gorgeous voice and murderous glee. A three-piece band is all that is needed here to convey this glorious music of a dark world: Matt Aument on piano, Tomoko Akaboshi on violin, and Michael Favreau’s clarinet.
This is Sondheim’s collaboration with Hugh Wheeler, adapted by Christopher Bond. Under Bill Buckhurst’s direction, the play moves apace, and is a serious hoot. You are not likely to have more fun at any other play this season.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.