I was finally lured to Metro Stage's Sweeney Todd this weekend - its last - despite, I admit, my skepticism over its casting. Was there really a Sweeney Todd and a Mrs. Lovett wandering around Boston and its 'burbs, I wondered?
Well, there are, in the persons of Ben DiScipio and Shana Dirik (left and below right), who take Sondheim's two most demanding roles and play them for all they're worth and then some. Trust me; some thirty years ago, I saw Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in the original production, and I caught Michael Cerveris and Patti Lupone in the fascinating Broadway revival. DiScipio and Dirik could have stepped into either couple's shoes.
Indeed, DiScipio was more murderously intense than Cariou, and Dirik has a better voice (and better diction!) than either Lansbury or Lupone (at this point), and she's as funny and demented as either. Whenever these two stalked the stage, this production was electrifying, and as director Paul Farwell seems to have followed closely Harold Prince's footsteps in the 1979 original, at times one felt one was watching something like "Sweeney Resurrected."
What's more, there were other pleasures beyond this impressive central duo; the production's women were remarkable, with sparkling acting and singing from Victoria Thornsbury as Johanna, and compelling vocals, but less convincing internal mania, from Arjana Andris as the Beggar Woman. The chorus was likewise in fine shape, and the reduced instrumental ensemble sounded surprisingly crisp. Things got rockier with the supporting male vocals (with Robert Case the notable exception), despite their generally on-target acting. And the physical production was, inevitably, a bit ragged (Metro Stage is a fledgling attempt to bridge the community-professional theatre gap). Still, director Farwell managed most of the show's complicated business smoothly on his constricted stage, and some sequences, particularly "City on Fire," worked perhaps better than they had on Broadway.
All in all, this proved a surprisingly strong showing for Metro, given that Sweeney Todd is the kind of operatic peak many a professional company would hesitate before attempting. Those fans who have longed to scale its heights again, in the company of expert leads, would do well to check out Sweeney's final bow, tonight.