Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler
Barrow Street Theatre, NYC, July 8th 2018
Oh – this was a fun one. I ordinarily don’t go in for this sort of thing (immersive theatre), but I’m glad I did. This off-broadway revival of everybody’s favorite Sondheim is unique in many ways. It began in Tooting in South London, where it took over a hundred year old pie shop called Harrington’s. When they moved it, first to the West End and then to the Barrow in NYC, they recreated the pie shop exactly. The space is the pie shop and the immersive performance space, including creatively hidden lights (behind air duct grates) and room for about 150 or 200 audience members.
My ticket also included a pie and mash dinner ahead time, prepared by a former White House pastry chef (great pie – a little heavy on the truffle-y nonsense, but tasty). For those of you not familiar with Sweeney, the pie won’t make any sense. Those of us seated at the long eating tables were warned that the performance would get very immersive.
The performance is intimate and definitely immersive. No mics needed in this space and the score was played by only three musicians. The dynamics were impressive, they really controlled the room. There were only 8 performers – a lot of doubling. Cast members performed throughout the space, including on our tabletops. At one point Sweeney, while in a tousle with Pirelli crashed himself in a bench full of audience members, turned his head and shouted “Move!”, terrifying the poor woman behind me. During the Pirelli’s magical elixir scene, they would liberally douse any bald head in the room with whatever it was they were using. Fortunately, I made it out relatively unscathed, but that razor came awfully close a few times.
I do love Sondheim and I like working hard to like it. Sweeney is a show that rewards hard work on the part of it’s audience, in my opinion. In the midst of such a sinister and menacing plot, we have ‘Johanna’, arguably one of the most beautiful songs in the musical theatre canon.
Overall, it was so clever and engaging – just the right amount of blood, and fantastic performances.
Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
His skin was pale and his eye was odd
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of againHe trod a path that few have trod
Did Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet streetHe kept a shop in London Town
Of fancy clients and good renown
And what if none of their souls were saved?
They went to their maker impeccably shavedBy Sweeney
By Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet streetSwing your razor wide, Sweeney
Hold it to the skies
Freely flows the blood of those who moralizeHis needs were few, his room was bare
A lavabo and a fancy chair
A mug of suds and a leather strop
An apron, a towel, a pail and a mopFor neatness he deserved a nod
Did Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet streetInconspicuous, Sweeney was
Quick and quiet and clean, he was
Back of his smile, under his word
Sweeney heard music that nobody heardSweeney pondered and Sweeney planned
Like a perfect machine, he planned
Sweeney was smooth, Sweeney was subtle
Sweeney would blink, and rats would scuttleSweeney, Sweeney, Sweeney, Sweeney