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‘Sweeney Todd’ review: Bloody-good Sondheim, with pie if you dare

Siobhan McCarthy as Mrs. Lovett and Jeremy Secomb

Siobhan McCarthy as Mrs. Lovett and Jeremy Secomb in the title role in "Sweeney Todd" at the Barrow Street Theatre. Credit: Boneau Bryan-Brown / Bronwen Sharp

WHAT “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

WHERE Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St.

INFO $69.50-$125 ($20 extra for pie and beverage); 866-811-4111, sweeneytoddnyc.com

BOTTOM LINE A delightfully scary “Sweeney” in a pie shop.

Of all Stephen Sondheim’s glorious, groundbreaking masterworks, “Sweeney Todd” may be the most user-friendly. It has worked wonderfully as grand opera and as Brechtian nightmare and as the original Industrial Revolution epic that opened on Broadway in 1979. Not to mention the big-screen “Sweeney” with Johnny Depp as the revenge-crazy barber.

Unless you were in London in 2014 and 2015, however, you haven’t seen the pie-shop “Sweeney,” first staged in the city’s oldest pie-and-mash shop and endearingly, delightfully re-created with long institutional tables and benches, water-stained walls and original wall menus threatening all manner of eels — with a $20 preshow option for excellent meat or vegetable pies.

In fact, this “Sweeney,” directed by Bill Buckhurst, plays to only 130 people at a time. It may come closest to Sondheim’s desire to have it be intimate and scary, with minimal props and, as he has put it, “so close up that the razor could have gotten you.” Designed by Simon Kenny, the tables and counter are used as stages and the slaughters — which make stuffing for Mrs. Lovett’s pies — chill with merely blood red lights and the shattering blast of a mouth whistle. Depending on where you are seated (for safe distance, I recommend the seats facing the action), you may find the revenge-mad barber popping up with diabolical unpredictability.

Just 10 actors (about half recast here) play all the characters with creep-fest glee, if not always vocally astonishing power. Jeremy Secomb’s baritone is a little light for Sweeney’s deepest dark heart, but the British actor glowers with the cold monster-mash eyes of a zombie. Siobhan McCarthy, also imported from London, glories in Mrs. Lovett’s cheerful amoral exuberance, if not always absolute lyric clarity.

Betsy Morgan is wonderful, both vocally and dramatically, as the Beggar Woman and the barber Pirelli. Alex Finke makes Johanna poignant even without pure operetta lyricism, while Matt Doyle and Brad Oscar make us hope they remain in the company when Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello take over the leads April 9.

Sondheim’s score is expertly reduced to just a piano, strings and wind trio. Somehow, Sondheim’s restless chromatics, the difficult disjunct vocal lines, the extended song forms and, especially, the wrenchingly beautiful choral writing are approached with the affection and awe they deserve. And, for once, there is no amplification, a pleasure even more sustaining than the food.

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