Saturday, June 24, 2017

More Meat Pies!

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Norm Lewis as the title character in Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre.

This production of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical thriller had its origins with Tooting Arts Club. The neighborhood company produced Sweeney in 2014 at Harrington's Pie and Mash Shop, the oldest such establishment in London.

After the production in an out-of-the-way southern part of London became a hit, producers moved it to the West End, and now it comes to New York, where Harrington's has been recreated inside the Barrow Street Theatre. You really feel like you're in a cozy pie shop, and for an extra fee, you can even buy a pie (not Mrs. Lovett's recipe) to eat before the show.

Of course, the tables have to be cleared before the show starts, since the cast will be dancing on top of those tables. A lot of productions in recent years have been billed as "immersive" when they really aren't, but Sweeney Todd actually does surround the audience, and the intimate setting means the reduced-size cast and orchestra still fill the space. The three-piece band never sounds thin, and the cast continually pops up in different parts of the audience creating an electric atmosphere.

Norm Lewis is an incredible singer, but instead of resting on his melodious voice, he frequently spits out lines to add to the threatening mood of the piece. His interpretation of the role is a bit different than those I've seen before, but the more I watched him, the more I loved what he was doing. His Sweeney is human and sometimes even vulnerable, but this just makes him all the more frightening when he turns to murder.

Carolee Carmello is equally good as Sweeney's accomplice, Mrs. Lovett. Her humor adds a great deal to the production, particularly in the song "A Little Priest" at the end of the first act. I was also impressed by Alex Finke as Johanna. Even before she gets shut up in an asylum, we notice something a bit off about Johanna.

But of course that's exactly what you would expect for someone raised by Judge Turpin (played by Jamie Jackson). Turpin is always creepy, but Jackson plays him as particularly threatening. His henchman Beadle Bamford (Brad Oscar) provides a perfect foil with his well-timed humor.

As wonderful as it is to hear Sondheim's music with a full orchestra, this intimate production captures the grandeur and the beauty of the show and is not to be missed.