Sweeney Todd is Bloody Good at Barrow Street
the demon barber of fleet street
Attended on March 20, 2018
Where is the theater?
All the way from Fleet Street, the Demon Barber now finds himself at Barrow Street. The Barrow Street Theatre, that is.Sweeney Todd is running at the Barrow Street Theatre, a historic building in the West Village that has been presenting off-broadway shows since 2003.
Hanging out in this neighborhood was a nice change of pace from the typical Midtown scene where most theater takes place in Manhattan. Even though the show is downtown, it’s easily accessible by Subway. You can take the 1, the ACE, or the BDF. The Barrow Street Theatre is in the Greenwich Village district of the West Village so its surrounded by bars and restaurants, including the historic Stonewall Inn.
What’s up with the pie shop?
Not-really-a-spoiler alert: Sweeney Todd is about the revenge of a barber returning to his home in London after being wrongfully exiled for many years. His accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, is the owner of a failing pie shop. Together they bake their victims into pies. The rest is musical theater history.
*Cue immersive pie shop idea.*
The Barrow Street Theater, typically a 200-seat theater, has been reformatted to resemble a pie shop in order to house this immersive production of Sweeney Todd. Specifically, it’s modeled after Harrington’s Pie & Mash Shop, a 109 year old pie shop in South London. This production was originally staged in London at Harrington’s, and then transferred to New York City where it is no playing at the Barrow Street Theater in the Historic Greenwich House.
How is this production of Sweeney Todd immersive?
Serving up pie-shop realness, a significant portion of the orchestra-level seating is set up cafeteria-style. The four center tables are the closest to the actors and most of the show takes place around them. If you sit in that section you’re essentially baked into the scenery. (See what I did there?)
This is not the type of immersive theater where the audience moves around the space or directly interacts with the performers. Don’t expect this to be like Sleep No More. The audience is seated for the entire show and there is no audience interaction.
Sweeney Todd offers reduced-price tickets for Twisting View Seats, which require audience members to twist their head to see some of the action, or Partial View Seats, from which the audience member is unable to see some parts of the show. The latter of these is common in New York theaters, but “twisting view” seats are unique to this immersive production. There are plenty of Forward View seats, which give you a more traditional view of the stage. If you sit in a Forward View Seat you will be able to watch the entire show straight on- I had one of these and it was great.
A lot of shows before this one have offered onstage seating. I remember the original 2007 production of Spring Awakening garnered a lot of attention when they had the audiences seated onstage next to undercover cast members. The way these seats are, with a cafeteria-style set up, seems more authentic than any other onstage seating I’ve seen. And this style is definitely more immersive.
The Worst Pies in London
The worst pies in London or the best pies in Manhattan?
This Sweeney Todd production offers pie & mash before the performance for an extra $25. The pies are baked by chef Bill Yassess, the White House Pastry Chef under the Obama Administration. We arrived an hour before the show to have our meal. Meat pie and veggie pie options available. The meal also includes mashed potatoes and a drink. God thats good!
How did you buy tickets?
I bought my tickets on the TodayTix app for $75. This is higher than I generally pay for tickets.
I decided to pay a higher price and buy in advance, rather than try the lottery, for a few reasons:
1. Word of Mouth. The word of mouth for this production of Sweeney Todd is really strong. People have said it’s the best Sweeney Todd they’ve ever seen. I don’t know if I would go that far, but it’s definitely one of the best things I’ve seen in New York this year.
2. Convenience. It’s easier to plan when you buy in advance. Just pick a day, buy the tickets (if they’re available) and go.
3. Sondheim. I’m a Sondheim nerd. Anything associated with him is automatically worth a higher value to me. A chance to see one of his best works produced in a way it's never been done before? This production had my name written all over it.
4. Pie. It came with pie! Add up the price you would have paid for dinner before a normal show and boom- same price.
The best part?
The Whistle!!! It was amazing. It happens at the beginning and end of the show. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
Why did you like it so much?
I love Sweeney Todd for so many reasons. It’s an epic piece of drama with some of the most beautiful melodies in all of musical theater. However, the primary reason that this work has my utmost respect is because of how successfully the material translates to different mediums of dramatic storytelling.
Symphonies like the NY Philharmonic have found great success with semi-staged concert versions of Sweeney Todd. Opera companies perform Sweeney Todd without alienating their core subscriber base of opera-goers. Tim Burton made Sweeney Todd into a major motion picture with Johnny Depp and it wasn’t even half-bad. The wide range of musical theater productions of Sweeney Todd that have been on Broadway, off-Broadway, and at regional theaters across the country couldn’t possibly be more different.
From the original with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, to the John Doyle revival with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris, Sweeney Todd has constantly being reinvented throughout its history. This immersive production is the latest, but surely not the last time that Sweeney Todd will be totally reimagined.
Don’t get me wrong- this immersive staging is no gimmick. So much of Sweeney Todd is about the psychology of the characters and the situations that motivate their wicked deeds. Based on what I observed during the performance I attended, being so physically close to the performers encouraged the audience to become more engrossed in each character's motivation than they would have otherwise. It really added to the overall experience.
Where was your seat?
I sat in the corner in the back of the balcony and it was a great seat- Row BB Seat 115. If you’re willing to buy the most expensive tickets, you’ll be able to sit at a cafeteria-style table downstairs in the orchestra level, a few inches away from the actors. I can see how it would be really fun to have sat there. The actors stand on the tables at various points of the show. It really puts you in the middle of the playing space- the seats are right in the midst of the action.
It will be hard to go wrong with any seat in this theater because it is so intimate. That is unless you feel strongly one way or the other about getting up close and personal to the actors.
Sit downstairs and in the front if you love the pie shop concept and want to fully experience it. Definitely don’t sit there if you won’t be comfortable with a murderous Barber slashing throats directly in front of you. If I were to do it again, I’d sit as close as possible. It looks cool!
I’ve been told that if you win the lottery the seats are downstairs, but in the back and all the way behind the tables. Personally, I felt I would rather have a view from the mezzanine than be in the back of the ground level. Can't beat a front mezzanine in my book.
Also- if you sit upstairs you can still order pie and mash beforehand! I came early for my meal and ate downstairs at the cafeteria table. Then I went up to take my seat in the balcony before the show. Easy as pie! I’m just killing it with these Sweeney Todd puns aren’t I?
I would have preferred 1-2 more cast members to round out the ensemble. They have an actress double as the Beggar Woman and Pirelli, the latter of which is traditionally played by a man. I’m all for creative gender-bender casting but.... this didn’t land for me. Pirelli sings several high C’s and the placement of where that sits in a woman’s voice just felt out of place. Still, a valiant effort!
What are you waiting for?
Sweeney Todd is really one of the best theater experience in NYC right now. The production has extended it's run multiple times for a reason. Sweeney Todd is now running at the Barrow Street Theatre through August 26th. Get your tickets now.