Friday, June 16, 2017

The Demon Barber of Barrow Street

A few months ago I learned that immersive theater really wasn't my thing.  I barely made it out of HT Darling's Musaeum before collapsing into a nervous fit of giggles. Let's just say, I'm much too awkward to enjoy theatre interacting with me.  But that was before I heard about Barrow Street's immersive production of Sweeney Todd.  This production would have pies to eat - a clever tie in to Ms. Lovett's pie shop - and would be performed in and around the theater-goers.  

It would still be "immersive" per se, but I wouldn't be forced to interact with the performers, and I would get to enjoy a yummy pie, so it couldn't be as scary as HT Darling's Musaeum.  Turns out it wasn't scary at all.  It was positively fantastic!  I can't imagine the work and time it took to transform the space into a pie shop, let alone figure out the choreography for the actors.  The shop itself was tiny - only about 120 seats.  The tight space made the show more intimate, and really made you feel like you were part of the action.

Both Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello were superb as Sweeney Todd, a murderous barber, and Mrs. Lovett, his landlady who had a bit of a crush on her tenant. I've seen Norm Lewis on television, but have never had the chance to see him sing live.  He has a deep tenor voice, that's all together beautiful and terrifying.  At one point, when Sweeney was murdering someone, he screamed at a patron of the pie shop (i.e. a theater-goer) "Move!" directly in her face.  While it was funny, I'm sure if it had been me, I would have burst into tears.  Sure he was in character, but he was also menacing as hell.

Mrs. Lovett was the perfect foil for Sweeney Todd, and Carolee Carmello played that perfectly.  She was hopelessly optimistic, and shamelessly self-serving. She knew Sweeney was a killer, but his murders could help out her pie shop, so why let a few bodies go to waste? You could tell that Ms. Carmello was having a blast playing the battyness of the role. The rest of the small cast was made up of highly talented theater actors that switched back and forth between a few roles flawlessly.

Like I said earlier, the other upside to this show was that there would be food; specifically pie and mash, served from the counter of Mrs. Lovett's Pie Shop.  And as a big fan of food, let me say that these pies were delicious!  I didn't expect much, mostly because dinner theater food isn't always the best.  However, in this instance, the food was a star.  When we purchased the tickets we had the choice of chicken pie or vegetarian.  We both chose chicken and were definitely not sorry.  The mash potatoes were good too, but I gobbled up the pie so quickly that I didn't have any more room for the mash.  
All in all, I left the production feeling much more positively about immersive theater.  If all immersive productions were more like Barrow Street's Sweeney Todd, the immersive theater movement may become a bit more mainstream.  Everything from the cast, to the show to the space to the food, was superb.  And I would go back to see it again in a hearbeat, something I definitely can't say about the Darling Musaeum.  

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