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'Sweeney Todd' review: Retelling makes the cut at Theater Three

Steve McCoy and Suzanne Mason in Theatre Three

Steve McCoy and Suzanne Mason in Theatre Three 's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," running Sept. 19 through Oct. 24, 2015. Photo Credit: Franklin Inc. / Sari Feldman

In the title role of Stephen Sondheim's tragicomic "mayhemsical," Steve McCoy reminds us of Boris Karloff. It's an apt look.

"Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,

His skin was pale and his eye was odd."

Theatre Three director Jeffrey Sanzel takes liberties in re-imagining the literally cutthroat musical that fans celebrate while others cringe. The few folks who departed before intermission opening night know not what they missed -- principally a transformative performance by Suzanne Mason as Mrs. Lovett, originated on Broadway by matronly Angela Lansbury in 1979. On a more conspicuous stage (Off-Broadway, perhaps) Mason might redefine the role.

Credit also goes to Sanzel, who cast and directed Mason in her overtly sexual interpretation of Mrs. Lovett, adding layers of mischief to the delicious "Little Priest" number. As the fable goes, she had eyes for Sweeney before he was sent to prison on a trumped-up charge by a judge who coveted his comely wife. When Todd returns to London, he finds that his daughter, Johanna, is ward and soon-to-be wife (unwillingly so) of Judge Turpin.

His means of vengeance presents itself as Pirelli, fellow barber ("Sweeney Todd" is subtitled "The Demon Barber of Fleet Street") and fulsome fake as played by John Hudson, attempts to blackmail Todd, leaving behind his apprentice Toby (ardent Andrew Gasparini). Subsequent victims of Todd's lethal razor are broiled, chopped and stuffed into Mrs. Lovett's meatpies, advertised in garish lights on Randall Parsons' indeterminately modern set. In song, McCoy gives full-throated testimony to Todd's anguish, though his dispatch of meatpie candidates is sometimes undercut by clumsy barber-chair exits.

Todd has an ally in Anthony Hope, a sailor handsomely voiced and portrayed by Bryan Elsesser opposite Amanda Geraci as melodious Johanna, object of myriad affections. Robert Butterley as Turpin has us shuddering at his masochistic response to Anthony's lovely ode to Johanna. Michael Butera as the judge's enabler embodies his character's creepy presence, while Linda May haunts us as the beggar woman with a deadly premonition.

Beyond their numbers, Jack Kohl's seven-piece strings-and-brass orchestra projects Sondheim's brilliant score, drivling Sari Feldman's crisp choreography. Ronald Green's costumes and Robert Henderson's lighting set the mood, whether for flirting or filleting in terms of human flesh.

Warning: Don't wander into the aisles. You might be trampled by hungry characters who inhabit the full space of Theatre Three.

WHEN | WHERE Friday and Saturday nights at 8 (also on Oct. 15 and 22), Sunday at 3 p.m. (and at 7 p.m. Oct. 18) through Oct. 24, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson

TICKETS $17-$30 ($15 ages 6-12), 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com

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