“Sweeney Todd,” originally a 1979 Broadway musical, has returned to New York City after more than a decade. The revamped off-Broadway production by the Tooting Arts Club, which opened at the Barrow Street Theater on March 1, follows a popular run in London’s West End. While Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics remain classic, the location’s intimate space allows for some flexible and astonishingly creative audience set-up. Replicating Harrington’s Pie and Mash shop, the real-life shop and stage for the “Sweeney Todd” production in London, the Barrow Street Theater was remodeled to allow audiences the experience of sitting and dining in an actual pie shop.
The show’s plot follows a bitter barber driven by revenge who plots to kill the man who took his wife, along with anyone who gets in his way. His landlady, the owner of a failing pie shop, wonders what to do with the dead bodies that keep appearing. In an absurdly nifty way, the pair decide that grinding the corpses and baking them into meat pies is the best way to both dispose of the bodies and make pie-baking cheaper and more filling.
With firm tongue-in-cheek humor, the theater sells pie slices to audience members to enjoy before the show. Even more astounding is the fact that the pies are baked by former White House Executive Pastry Chef, William Yosses. Those with dietary restrictions prohibiting cannibalism need not worry — the deliciously rich pies contain no traces of human meat.
When the pie munching is over, the tables are completely cleared — and for good reason. The show’s brilliant choreography calls for the performers to jump, stomp and slide along the communal tables throughout the performance. Jeremy Secomb, who plays the protagonist Sweeney Todd, has a thunderous voice that pervades the theater and makes his character all the more intimidating. The narrow stage area means plenty of audience members have the opportunity to make eye contact with him — a terrifying experience as his piercing eyes reveal a convincingly tormented soul.
This isn’t the only form of audience interaction. Spectators can expect to be shouted at by actors standing inches away, have their heads rubbed with miraculous hair growth formula or to be jostled unceremoniously by actors who never break character.
If they’re not too terrified, viewers will certainly find the humor in the performances of actors like Siobhan McCarthy, who plays the eccentric pie maker Mrs. Lovett, and Betsy Morgan, who plays rival barber Adolfo Pirelli. Both have beautiful voices that may only be outdone by their devilish comedic genius.
However, this thrilling play isn’t all blood and games. A purer love story than Mrs. Lovett’s lethal romance does exist for the young lovers Johanna and Anthony, played by Alex Finke and Matt Doyle respectively. Their soft and sweet voices are a stark contrast to the rest of the play, slicing through the bittersweet tension.
All in all, the performance is a wonderful revival and everything from the intimate space — occasionally lit only by candlelight — to its small cast and incredibly talented three-person orchestra make it a truly enjoyable and lively experience.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is playing at the Barrow Street Theater at 27 Barrow St. through Aug. 13.