Sweeney Todd @ 5th Avenue Theatre
You are what you eat 🥧
Published May 8, 2023
Runs through May 14th
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is Stephen Sondheim’s darkest musical; by the show’s end, five of the eight lead characters have been murdered, and one has been driven insane. Not to mention the post-mortem fate that awaited the Demon Barber’s other victims, who ended up in the surprisingly popular meat pies served up by Sweeney’s accomplice in creative cooking, Mrs. Lovett. But if it’s dark, it’s also a comedy, and unlike the dreadfully gloomy and doomy 2007 film version by Tim Burton, the 5th Avenue production isn’t afraid to loosen up and have some fun.
This is especially so in the case of Anne Allgood’s Mrs. Lovett, a role that could too easily fall into caricature, but Allgood plays up the humor, but not too broadly, getting the balance just right. Runner up is Jesus Garcia, who adroitly channels Freddie Mercury as rival barber Adolfo Pirelli, swanning around in a purple crushed velvet jumpsuit and making the most of his two short scenes.
Yusef Seevers’ Sweeney has the robust voice the role demands, alternately brooding and vengeful. But the show holds back on reveling too much in the Grand Guignol aspects of the story (it’s the first Sweeney Todd I’ve seen where you don’t see any blood). What you do get is a sturdy, solid production with an excellent ensemble (a Greek chorus attired in glam steampunk), and a first-rate orchestra ready to give you a ghoulish, giddy ride.
And don’t overlook the subtle social commentary in this story of the powerful preying on the weak. The original Sweeney was a Victorian-era fictional creation and a straightforward villain. But the musical’s narrative is based on Christopher Bond’s 1970 play, which gave Sweeney his backstory (he’s an escaped convict, sent to prison on false charges, back in London to seek revenge), thus allowing audiences to sympathize with his murderous exploits. Sweeney’s motives are personal, not political, but his view of humanity is certainly relevant to our own gilded age: “The history of the world, my sweet/Is who gets eaten and who gets to eat.”
Tip: The specialty cocktail, “Razor’s Edge” (Barcardi light rum, Sprite, and passionfruit, orange, guava, and cranberry juices) is worth ordering, especially if you tell the bartender to go easy on the Sprite.
📸: Courtesy 5th Avenue Theatre