Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Attend the tale...again (A half-assed review of Sweeney Todd, Broadway, Feb. 11, 2006)

As good as it is, I've seen Sweeney Todd too many times. But my obscenely perfect wife desperately wanted to go, so her dutiful husband scored her front row-center tickets for Saturday afternoon's performance. Normally, the front row would be just too close, but when a rabid fan is involved, being close enough to be in the splatter field for blood and spit is apparently an unparalleled treat. Also, there's the matter of sitting below the incomparable Ms. Patti LuPone as she tromped around in trashy short skirts. I did my best to be a gentleman about the situation.

In brief: I loved the new staging. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I wouldn't choose to see the traditional, period staging of Sweeney again. (Because my reviews are half-assed, read fellow-Swarthmore-alum Ben Brantley's NYT review if you want to know what's so different with this staging.) The rather spare, symbolic set worked very well, although both of us thought that it didn't work as well in the second act, where some sacrifices were made to accomodate the sparse set and limited assortment of props.

The music, rescored for the ten on-stage actor/musicians, was electric. It's addition by subtraction. And the actors playing the instruments was well-incorporated into the acting tasks...somehow it made perfect sense that actors were carrying around musical instruments in and out of scenes.

Patti LuPone managed to redeem herself from her bizarre Mrs. Lovett portrayal from the concert performance with George Hearn a few years back. She had a depraved, trashy take on Mrs. Lovett that worked excellently well. Michael Cerveris' Sweeney was more complex than his famous predecessors' versions.

Lauren Molina, who played Johanna, deserves very special credit. Her freaked-out portrayal of Sweeney's long lost daughter work very well dramatically. Even more importantly, I was finally able to hear her songs without immediately having the urge to jam my playbill into my ears. (Anyone else ever secretly wish for Sweeney to off that character at the end?)

This one is good enough for the theater snobs, and interesting enough to satisfy theater-goers who don't really care for musicals.

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