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Gateway's 'Sweeney Todd': It's bloody good

Alicia Irving and Jaime Jackson in Gateway Playhouse

Alicia Irving and Jaime Jackson in Gateway Playhouse " Sweeney Todd" Photo Credit: Jeff Bellante Photo/

It's taken three decades for "Sweeney Todd," the dark but droll Sondheim masterpiece, to make its debut at Gateway Playhouse.

It's worth the wait.

Premiering in 1979, the American musical based on a British fable has become a regional theater staple throughout the English-speaking world.

Smartly directed by Dom Ruggiero, this "Demon Barber of Fleet Street" hews closer to Harold Prince's Broadway original than the 2005 revival in which each actor also played an instrument, and veers far from the 2007 movie in which Johnny Depp turned the angry barber into a matinee idol. Deploying a visual theme of staircases to nowhere -- wheeled about David Esler's grim set (soot-suggestive lighting by Brian Loesch, Victorian costumes by José Rivera) -- Ruggiero implies a second-story path to oblivion. That's the path Todd chooses when he restores his barbershop above Mrs. Lovett's squalid meat-pie emporium.

Todd, played by Jamie Jackson with a maniacal sneer that melts whenever fond memories breech his guard, returns to London following a 15-year banishment on false charges. His landlady informs him that his wife poisoned herself after the judge who exiled Todd raped her. Judge Turpin now means to force Todd's daughter, Johanna, to marry him.

Mrs. Lovett feeds Todd what she gleefully calls "The Worst Pies in London" before she recognizes him as her former tenant and fetches his gleaming razors. Seeking vengeance by means of a too-close shave, Todd conspires with Mrs. Lovett to increase her meat supply at a cutthroat rate.

Alicia Irving's operatic lilt contrasts harmoniously with Jackson's baleful bellow as their menu expands with each verse of "A Little Priest," the cleverest song about cannibalism ever devised. Bonnie Fraser as Johanna and Ken Clark as the suitor who plots her rescue are vocal chemistry mates, while Bruce Winant as Judge Turpin presents a pitiable, self-flagellating villain. Bryan Welnicki as the street urchin Mrs. Lovett takes in shows heartfelt gratitude in "Not While I'm Around."

Jodi Stevens as a pesky beggar, Robert Anthony Jones as the judge's sidekick and Scott Emerson as Todd's shaving rival round out a melodious cast accompanied with flawless exuberance by Jeff Hoffman's 10-piece orchestra. For those who've not seen any of myriad "Sweeney Todd" predecessors to Gateway's, be warned: The razor drips with blood.

WHAT "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by Hugh Wheeler

WHEN | WHERE 8 tonight, Friday and Tuesday nights, 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, till Sept. 11, Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport

INFO $51-$57; 631-286-1133,

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