Stephen Sondheim’s darkly comic Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has enthralled audiences with its subversive cynicism since it premiered in 1979. Often revived and even adapted to film, every notable version of the musical offers audiences a different perspective on the cherished characters. The latest revival is being performed in a replica of London’s oldest pie and mash shop, Harrington’s Pie and Mash. This staging draws audiences into the show in a novel way, putting them face-to-face with the characters and allowing them to be closer to Sweeney’s razor blades than they ever imagined.
Actor Matt Doyle sinks his teeth into the loveable and charming character of Anthony for this stirring production, and deftly plays the role with heartfelt sincerity. “I feel very close to Anthony, how he reacts on love, his urgency, and his naïveté,” says Doyle. “I was definitely the same way at his age.” Doyle’s ability to connect to the role allows the audience to see Anthony as a very real person, which is a blessing considering the musical’s immersive staging.
Photo by Joan Marcus
With the audience being so involved in the performance, patrons gain deeper understandings of these well-known characters. “This Anthony has to relate to people in the crowd, and he has to really turn that into a conversation with the people around him,” says Doyle. Ticketholders hear lyrics they never really heard before during harmonies and counter-melodies because the cast roves around the space. Words and phrases they recognize carry different weights when they are delivered directly to them. For example, in this production audiences realize there is more to Anthony than his idealistic charm. “It was a challenge at first to kind of accept that I am the straight man within [this world], and then realize all of the flaws, colors, and character that Anthony has himself,” says Doyle. “He isn't just this young, naive romantic; there is something darker going on there.”
Despite its age, Sweeney Todd feels timely given the Western world’s current fascination with nationalism and populism, especially with half of the current cast transferring with this production from London. “It's been pretty wild having people coming over from Britain right now because of everything they are dealing with in terms of Brexit, and everything we're dealing with here in terms of Trump,” explains Doyle. “I think there's a lot going on in both sides, and it was interesting to be able to hear their perspective on everything going on in our country and for everyone to really get it out and make sure that we create a safe space for each other.” No matter how one interacts with it, art has always been a great place to explore one’s feelings about anything that affects him or her. “It's been a really important outlet for a lot of us, to be working on this show, to be creating art together, and to be putting something so beautiful together,” says Doyle.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Likewise, the plot of Sweeney Todd explores the power disparity. “I certainly would never suggest that anyone ever do what Sweeney Todd does, but I do think that there are a lot of people seeking their own revenge right now,” says Doyle. “I think for liberals, like ourselves, it is a revenge in terms of taking back the power.” It’s easy to draw political parallels between Judge Turpin, Sweeney Todd, and prominent figures on both sides of the aisle. Proponents from both camps can spin this tale in their favor, making it accessible and thought-provoking for all.
And if sitting in pie shop to see an immersive production of Sweeney Todd isn’t enough to whet one’s appetite for this beloved classic’s return, this production offers something for everyone. The cast and crew have worked a delightful spot of camp into the show. “We've got a Pirelli in drag,” says Doyle. “She flirts with a lot of women every night, and that's fun to watch. She does it with such confidence and ease. And, she is very, very sexy as a man.”
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow Street between 7th Avenue and West 4th Street). Tickets are currently on sale through December 31, 2017. For more information, visit SweeneyToddNYC.com.