The sky was threatening, ominous and cloudy, as my group of friends entered Washington Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn. We plunked down our picnic blanket amidst the sea of others and kept our expectations low. It was probably going to rain. The production was probably going to be disappointing. None of us knew anything about the company, Piper Theatre Productions, but they were attempting to perform Sweeney Todd, a notoriously difficult piece of musical theatre, outside (for FREE!) in the middle of summer. “To attempt such a task, they must be insane! How can this possibly succeed?” That’s what we thought.
Oh how wrong, how terribly wrong we were!
Piper Theatre Productions knew exactly what they were doing. I since learned they’ve produced free outdoor theatre in Washington Park every summer for the past 10 years! They’ve become so adept at this they were able to stage an impressive production of Stephen Sondheim’s tricky, enchanting, and sinister production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
In the dimming light we watched the stage lights come up, illuminating Sarah Edkins‘ minimal yet extremely efficient set. The full band played the opening notes and immediately the stage was swarmed with actors singing the frantic, syncopations of the ominous opening number. We’re told immediately this “musical thriller” is going to be dark and ugly. It’s only a matter of time before throats are slit by the silver razor of the demon barber of Fleet Street.
When??? When’s the blood bath going to begin?? And who are all these other characters we meet first? What made this guy Sweeney crazy enough to kill people? What kind of name is Sweeney anyway? Wow, all these performers have truly great voices! This cast is really talented!
Then get ready to fall in love the minute you meet Mrs. Lovett. Every one on my picnic blanket had massive girl-crushes on the talented actress playing this charismatic character, Hannah D. Scott from the minute she opened her mouth. We couldn’t get enough of her song about super disgusting baked goods!
So I was completely sucked into this production and the dirty world of its 19th century London setting. When a large rain drop fell smack on my nose I was so startled I almost cried out. No! No, rain! Why does this keep happening to me this summer!? The production halted. We held our breath in the audience and crossed our fingers, cowering under the waterproof side of our picnic blankets.
Mercifully it was a short cloud burst. Hardly 10 minutes later the rain stopped and the production prepared to continue. All the kids of Piper’s large educational summer program were called up to the stage to help dry it off. Let me tell you, watching 30 teens armed with paper towels frantically wiping a stage is completely heart warming.
Then we were back in the world of Sweeney Todd. Which was getting as dark as the sky. Pitch darkness soon enveloped the whole scene. In the most entertaining way possible, with perfectly timed moments of dark comedy. Even romance. The side plot of young love managed to avoid the trap of insipidness thanks to the talents of Sarah Ziegler and Christopher Nolan. Erin Edelle (as the Beggar Woman), Tim Fitzsimons (as Pirelli), Ryan Kleess (as Tobias) all have wonderful moments in their performances.
The ensemble is great as well, strong performances all around. But of course Hannah D. Scott and Adam LeBow (in the title role) carry the show. It’s no easy task to make a character disturbing, psychopathic, and sympathetic simultaneously. LeBow succeeds on all accounts, a performance that is crucial to the success of the entire show.
There are still plenty of chances to catch Piper Theatre Productions Sweeney Todd : The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Performances all start at 8pm these next two weekends: July 9, 10, 11 and 16, 17, 18. It makes a great night, watching a great production under the stars. Don’t let the rain stop you! There were plenty of little kids at the performance I saw, so I could say it’s fun for the whole family…but I wouldn’t recommend it for children under 10. Over 10?
Go see this show! It’s creepy, delightful, masterful, and thoroughly entertaining.
Before I would have said attempting an outdoor production of Sweeney Todd was almost as insane as murdering people and baking them into pies! What’s more insane than that? Probably making a musical out of a story of a murdering and baking people into pies! Fortunately it’s often the craziest ideas that produce the best results!
For further information and directions about for to get to the park, visit Piper Theatre’s website.