Last night we experienced one of our most thrilling theater experiences. Surprisingly, it took place at a revival. But what a revival! A new production of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical “Sweeney Todd” has just arrived from London, where it played in a pie shop! So of course, the New York version is also playing in a pie shop. (And yes, you can order “The Best Meat Pies in London” shortly before the performance begins.)
Why our enthusiasm? The 128-seat performance space (devised by the Barrow Street Theatre) creates proximity between performers and audience that greatly magnifies the impact of the singing and acting (and murdering). The performers are often just feet away, sometimes inches, standing on the narrow communal tables right in front of us. Sometimes with barbers’ blades gesturing menacingly in our direction.
And then there are the outstanding performers, most of of whom are from the London cast. They are all first rate, especially Siobhán McCarthy’s Mrs. Lovett, who is top drawer, and Jeremy Secomb as Sweeney Todd – he nearly steals the show. We’ve seen a lot of Sweeneys over the years, but Secomb may be the best –- certainly the most terrifying. Twelve hours later, we can still see his threatening gaze and fury.
OK, you may say, but I’ve seen “Sweeney Todd” before, and how many more people can I watch Sweeney kill? Why should I go see this production? Well, because Ben and Donna said so. By the time we go on with more reasons to persuade you, there won’t be any tickets left. The show formally opens March 1, and I can’t imagine that many tickets in this tiny venue will remain after the reviews are published. (The London notices were most favorable.)
Two caveats. First, the original cast members depart after April 9. Second, when buying tickets, you’ll be apprised of which tickets are better and which are worse. No surprise – opt for the better to get the full impact of the staging.