Sweeney Todd

Bats came to town, so I finally made the time to go see Sweeney Todd on Broadway, with the lovely and talented Patti Lupone. It was pretty awesome. Not as awesome as the the definitive Sweeney Todd version, but I might be slightly biased.

One of the amazing things about the production was that there was no orchestra. The cast members were also the orchestra. So they would be playing instruments when they weren’t singing, and sometimes even while singing or moving. The two romantic leads played matching cellos, Pirelli played an accordion, Toby played the violin, several people took turns on the keyboard, and Patti played the tuba. With pizzazz. And it all worked. It was pretty inspiring to see these ten people create all of the music themselves. The spareness of the orchestration also brought out the weirdly wonderful dissonant harmonies of Sondheim, which was neat.

The staging was also fantastic. It was a simple set: a few chairs, some shelves at the back of the stage, a ladder and a coffin centerpiece. Yet they fluidly rearranged the pieces and moved themselves around to create all of the different scenes without missing a beat. One thing Batman commented on is the way they effectively used vertical space to create distance. In a couple scenes, they had two folks talking to each other while standing on chairs, while something else was going on at stage level, and it created an effective separation between the two scenes. They also managed to move all the scenery around while keeping track of their instruments. It also led to entertaining bits for those of us that knew the work; there was one bit where Antony was playing the keyboard at the back of the stage, but I knew that he had to come rushing into the scene in a second, and I was wondering how they were going to manage that. Toby leapt to the back of the stage, slammed Antony out of the way to start playing the keyboard, and in one motion, Antony ran to the front of the stage to make his entrance. Nice bit of staging. Another bit of staging that amused us was at the end when Johanna is hiding from Sweeney, she ducked behind her cello.

It’s hard for me to judge the production fairly, since it’s always going to be compared to the one I did. But I think the quality of voices in the San Francisco version was higher, probably because they could get pure singers instead of multifaceted performers. And there are a couple times where I felt that the show missed the wall of sound that we generated with a full orchestra plus 30 chorus members (especially in the “Swing your razor wide, Sweeney” choruses). But this show had its own charm; the charm of the exquisitely designed miniature rather than the extravaganza.

Afterwards, Bats and I had dinner at the confusingly named Chelsea Grill of Hell’s Kitchen. We managed to get a table right on the sidewalk, so we got to enjoy watching the people of New York wander by. The food was excellent (I had “Bacon-wrapped BBQ meatloaf”, which was every bit as sinful as it sounds) (plus the waffle fries were tasty), we enjoyed a beer together, and we managed to still get Bats on his train. Barely.

A very pleasant evening out. I’d forgotten how much I like the theater. I need to go more often.

P.S. Oh, one other random New York moment. Before the show, I was scanning the crowd while waiting for Bats and saw this woman who looked familiar. I thought to myself, she looks just like somebody I knew in the San Francisco Ultimate League. Then she saw me, and did the same sort of double-take. So I wandered over and said hi. She was in NYC on vacation, I told her I’d moved here, etc. So random. But excellent. It reminds me of why I’m here – New York is where things like this happen.

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