Did you come here for a pie, sir? If so, smart move. The traditional meat or vegetarian pie dished out to audience members before each performance of the Tooting Arts Club’s “Sweeney Todd”—alongside a gut-warming mound of mash—is scrumptious.
That’s to be expected, since the delicacies are the creation of a former White House pastry chef. Equally satisfying is the production itself, an in-your-face take on Stephen Sondheim’s dark tale about a bloodthirsty barber, now at the Barrow Street Theatre.
This immersive “Sweeney,” in a working pie shop, was previously done at a smaller venue in London. About a third of the audience is seated at long tables, becoming the bakery’s “customers.” Actors, a mix of Brits and Americans, may march across your table, or push you aside in your seat with a threatening bark: “Move!” (There’s mezzanine seating, as well.)
Lead Jeremy Secomb, who also performed the role overseas, is a sinister Sweeney, née Benjamin Barker, with the sunken eyes of a lunatic. His performance is threatening and physical, and you’ll wow at the way he becomes unbuttoned and lost in the world during the macabre and cherished first act climax, “A Little Priest.”
Siobhán McCarthy’s Mrs. Lovett, the delusional and love starved baker, thinks she’s cementing her relationship with Todd at that moment, but we know better. McCarthy, also a London vet, is simpering, sly and coquettish in her cartoonishly overdone eye shadow. She's marvelous.
Broadway heartthrob Matt Doyle is strong as Anthony, the naive young sailor whose attempts to court Todd’s daughter, Johanna (Alex Finke) are persistently foiled by her adoptive father, Judge Turpin (Duncan Smith) and his lackey (Tony nominee Brad Oscar).
Finke’s Johanna is a sweet-voiced innocent with a sensible and resourceful disposition. Her take on “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” is one of the production’s high points. Smith is a sharp contrast as the slovenly and piggish jurist.
Oscar is appropriately smarmy as Beadle Bamford, the officious bureaucrat who’s only out for himself. The delightful Betsy Morgan has the most operatic obligations here, in dual roles as a beggar woman with a past Barker can’t quite place, and the huckster Mr. Pirelli.
All the familiar numbers are well-executed, though for my three quid, “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” makes exceptional use of the seating composition, with Mr. Pirelli’s bewigged assistant (Joseph Taylor) leaping across tables and rubbing potion on the heads of any audience member with notable hair loss.
Candlelight, a three-person orchestra and that familiar shrill whistle each time a throat is slit give the production its atmosphere without any extravagant pyrotechnics. Of note: In April, several new actors join the cast, with Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello taking over the leads.
The seating arrangements downstairs encourage rapport with strangers. Here, we get a new twist on an old favorite, a particularly satisfying staging that’s a treat for all of the senses, even taste.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” on sale through Aug. 13. Tickets: $69.50-$125. Call 866-811-4111.
Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn