A musical revival on Broadway: ‘Sweeney Todd’

It’s a dog eat dog world on Broadway with the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” But it is a people eat people world if you have sampled one of Mrs. Lovett’s pies.

In the play “Sweeney Todd,” Barber Benjamin Barker returns to London after a wrongful 15-year incarceration. After seeking out his former shop, he meets Mrs. Lovett, self-proclaimed baker of “The Worst Pies in London,” working in the shop below.

After learning that his wife was shamed into suicide and his daughter adopted by the same judge who imprisoned him, Barker is infuriated. Mrs. Lovett offers Barker his old razors, and Sweeney Todd is born. Mrs. Lovett and Todd become allies. Todd finds his revenge against humanity and Mrs. Lovett supplies the means of disposal for his victims. No one seems to notice the disappearance of Todd’s clientele or the pies that at best resemble Alpo.

Fans of the original 1979 musical will be surprised, for better or worse, as they attend the tale of Sweeney Todd at the Eugene O’Neill Theater this season. Director John Doyle has condensed the cast to a mere 10 who serve as actors, crew members and orchestra. The set has been reduced to a few chairs, a coffin (which Sweeney eerily rises out of in the prologue), and of course buckets of blood. Death scenes are highlighted by the emptying of buckets and flashing red light, victims assuming a red stained coat thereafter. What might have been a barebones production became an imaginative mind’s hell, leading the audience to fill in the horrific blanks.

Tony award winners Michael Cerveris (“Assassins”) and Patti LuPone (“Evita”) play three instruments apiece without sheet music (“off book”) or a conductor. Having toured the US and UK with punk bands and playing in his own, Cerveris and his guitar are like one onstage.

LuPone’s mad tuba blowing provides comedy rather than quality, and not surprisingly it is the perfect accessory for her outrageous character.

Despite the seemingly endless tasks before them, LuPone and Cerveris slip easily into their roles, both having the fortune of experiencing Sondheim productions before. LuPone has performed the role of Mrs. Lovett in concert, and is no stranger to Sondheim’s lightening fast and tongue-twisting lyrics. Cerveris has performed regionally, off-Broadway and on Broadway in “Assassins,” “Passion,” “Anyone Can Whistle,” “Sunday In The Park With George,” and “A Little Night Music.”

Doyle debuted his production of “Sweeney Todd” on London’s West End, earning nominations for a Laurence Olivier Award and an Evening Standard Award. He won for Best Musical Revival at the Whatsonstage Awards before bringing “Sweeney Todd” over the pond,marking his debut on Broadway.

For more information visit http://www.sweeneytoddonbroadway.com.