Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

by Daniel Neiden

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 1, 2017

Lorinne Lampert and David Fuller
Lorinne Lampert and David Fuller   

If Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is the steak dinner of modern musicals, then, with last night's triumphant performance by Brooklyn's Theater 2020, I must have dined at Peter Luger's. While you're busy forgiving me for using a meat eater's metaphor when reviewing "Sweeney Todd," alert your favorite theater geeks that you all should make plans to immediately see and hear this glorious production before it closes. 

Theater 2020's cast of 15 (seeming like a company of 50), under sly and stern direction of Judith Jarosz, goes deep, dark, and downright operatic to pump Wheeler's ghoulish book (in this case, the Christopher Bond adaptation) with enough steam (and steampunk) to speed everyone toward their very sticky destinies. Starting at 8 p.m., these were the best voices on any stage, in any part of the five boroughs.

As the eponymous Todd, the powerful David Fuller conjures Sondheim's relentless musical pace, and admirably anchors the company, as all assembled witness the fate of a desperate barber seeking justice while running out of time. Lorinne Lampert sparkles like a cursed diamond as Mrs. Lovett. Pasting on smiles, she bides her time and claws her way toward what she's after. Lampert adds a touch of the primal to her lyrical voice and admirably fits into the director's well-timed, over-the-cliff pace. 

Adam Baritot (Judge Turpin), Catherine Purcell (Johanna) and Zack Krajnyak (Anthony) turn in solidly rendered performances, all contributing the the deliciously tragic arc, lying in wait in a way that has us shifting into our seats in full suspense.

On the night I attended, the audience's favorites were John Jeffords (Tobias), Jefferson Behan (Beadle), and Chrysten Peddie (Pirelli). If I never hear Toby's resolute "Not While I'm Around" again, I will have heard the version I'd like to remember, astonishingly rendered by Jeffords. He will do many more incredible things to come, but this is a most appreciated early win you should witness for yourself.

Jefferson Behan glowers and charms his way through the proceedings, daring us to hope for his untimely demise, but not until he has charmed and channeled "Parlor Songs," which makes his presence all the more arcane.

Valued above audience favorites is the MVP, and the most valuable player of this excellent production is, in actuality, the colossally skilled piano player, Tom McDonough. As he is also the musical director, then he is the cherished security blanket every performer prays for. McDonough has that rare and valued craft, where he has your back while he lights your way forward, and somehow seems invisible while he leads.
 
Now then, back to those favorites: What a treat to find out that the rakish con artist that is Signor Pirelli not only works when being played by a woman, but the song, "The Contest" itself takes on a wholly different and alternately satisfying dimension and comedic charm. This clever choice is deftly executed by the very confident Peddie, who also comes back as part of the most excellent arsenal of multi character players. And kudos to the excellent Amber Dewey, Samuel Floyd, Samantha Kronenfeld, James Neufeld, and Tyler Whitaker). They are the best ensemble you'll find anywhere.

And, ominously, I do hope you'll "find" it in the time you have left before this engagement closes. If you think it's a deterrent to get to Brooklyn Heights, it is not. Easy by subway, cheap by cab, and well worth the peace of mind that you caught it, and don't have to cut your own throat in regret for missing out.

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" runs through March 12 at Theater 2020, the First Unitarian Church, McKinney Chapel, 116 Pierrepont St. in Brooklyn. For tickets or information, visit http://sweeney.bpt.me or www.theater2020.com.

(The space is intimate and reservations are highly recommended!)

Daniel Neiden is a writer and composer who develops socially conscious theater projects.