Reviewed by Leonard Jacobs
Presented by T. Schreiber Studio at the Gloria Maddox Theatre, 151 W. 26th St., 7th Fl. (bet. 6th & 9th Aves.), NYC, Sept. 20-Oct 15.
Musical theatre fans would have been frustrated by T. Schreiber Studio's production of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" by C.G. Bond. Yes, this is the play upon which Stephen Sondheim based his 1979 musical, and yes, the lyrics fly off the page. Some will argue that musical theatre fans have no business looking at this play—or production—to gain insight into the musical's genesis, but little else distracted the mind.
Directed by Marc Geller, the story is the same: Sweeney Todd (Edwin Sean Patterson), formerly Benjamin Barker, returns to London after escaping imprisonment in search of his wife and daughter to seek revenge upon the Judge who imprisoned him. Soon he meets Mrs. Lovett (Zoey O'Toole—in a sharp performance) and the play begins.
In Bond's imagination, "Sweeney" is the apotheosis of Grand Guignol, and the production labored to replicate that, with wafting mist, too-dark lighting, gory action—all in tow. But Geller and the cast missed Bond's point—to expose the underside of the British underclass during the time of Dickens. Everything was still too mannered, still too stilted, and still not gory enough. The cast, also including David Paterson, J.M. McDonough, Charlie Romanelli, Ellen Lindsay, Tom Kulesa, Mary Beth Twisdale, Mike Murphy, and Gabe Hernandez, tried hard, but could not mask their efforts: Some perfected their accents so well that accenting the play's humanity was impossible.
It was possible, however, to be seduced by the frippery—Frank DenDento III's non-lighting lighting, Tracy Christensen's raggedy costumes, Katya DeBear's set design—but they are surface effects, including the barber chair, unintentionally malfunctioning during the performance I attended. A true metaphor. In the future, I'd rather see a no-set, no-costume production faithfully exploring the gore and the meat, as it were, of Bond's topic, than misinterpretation that cuts with a knife.