OFF BROADWAY: Catching up with an ‘ingenious take’ on Sweeney Todd ★★★★

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Barrow Street Theatre, New York

Visiting New York offers a chance to catch up with the trans-Atlantic transfer of Bill Buckhurst’s ingenious take on Sweeney Todd, sited in a replica of Harrington’s eponymous Tooting pie shop.

In the current iteration, Thom Sesma plays the barbarous barber, while Sally-Ann Triplett picks up the rolling pin as Mrs Lovett. There’s a callow, haunting presence to Sesma whose Todd evidently serves “a dark and vengeful god”. One senses Sweeney’s murderous power and potential from the outset, Sesma’s opening exchanges with Anthony (Billy Harrigan Tighe) heavy with understated menace. The production, however, has its actors un-amplified, and annoyingly there are moments when lyrics are lost.

Triplett is, as the role demands, far more floury than flowery. Indeed, while recent years have seen numerous talented women play Mrs Lovett, Triplett unlocks something special in the deep love that she’s evidently borne for Sweeney for many years. As she gives him back his knives, tools that she has evidently treasured, on his return to Fleet Street there is a moment of passion and pathos in her action that is a rare treat.

There’s only one Brit in the cast (Triplett) and credit to all the American players for their English accents. There’s not a weak link amongst them either, with classy vocals and acting coming from Delaney Westfall and Stacie Bono as Joanna and the Beggar Woman respectively. Michael James Leslie captures the plummy patrician in Judge Turpin, though perhaps a little more could be made of his contribution to the show’s sexualised horror in his own reprise of ‘Johanna’. And moving from horror to comedy, the first half’s closing number of ‘A Little Priest’ needs its vocals honed and timed just a little tighter to enable Sondheim’s razor-sharp wit to be fully savoured.

With just a three piece band, musical director Adrian Ries makes fine work of Sondheim’s complex melodies.
As Sara Bareilles’ Waitress plays on Broadway and this show runs in Greenwich Village, the power of the pie to pack in New York audiences has never been stronger. Of course, the pie-shop Sweeney famously goes one step further, allowing folk to pre-order a meat filled delicacy (veggie option available too) that arrives swimming in liquor (or, as the Harrington’s sign states, a little lasciviously, “Licker”). On the night of this review, the Beef Wellington pie was delicious, even if the portion of mash could have been a tad more generous.
Harrington’s at the Barrow Street Theatre was packed. It’s clear that this Sweeney Todd remains fine off-Broadway fare!

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Jonathan Baz
Theatre critic Jonathan Baz is London-based but with a coverage that extends far beyond the capital to include regional theatre as well as occasional forays into Europe and the USA. He enjoys reviewing new writing as much as seeing fresh interpretations of well-known plays and musicals. Jonathan also sits on the judging panel of London's Off West End Awards ("the Offies") and has published numerous interviews and features with leading figures in the film and theatre world. Away from the arts, Jonathan is a practising Chartered Accountant with a number of clients in the entertainment industries. He blogs at www.jonathanbaz.com and tweets at @MrJonathanBaz.
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Jonathan Baz on RssJonathan Baz on Twitter
Jonathan Baz
Theatre critic Jonathan Baz is London-based but with a coverage that extends far beyond the capital to include regional theatre as well as occasional forays into Europe and the USA. He enjoys reviewing new writing as much as seeing fresh interpretations of well-known plays and musicals. Jonathan also sits on the judging panel of London's Off West End Awards ("the Offies") and has published numerous interviews and features with leading figures in the film and theatre world. Away from the arts, Jonathan is a practising Chartered Accountant with a number of clients in the entertainment industries. He blogs at www.jonathanbaz.com and tweets at @MrJonathanBaz.

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