Review Roundup: New York Philharmonic's SWEENEY TODD

By: Mar. 06, 2014

The New York Philharmonic's staged production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opened last night and will run through March 8, 2014, starring bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in the title role and Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lovett in her Philharmonic debut, New York stage debut, and first time performing the role.

Jeff Blumenkrantz portrays The Beadle; Tony Award winner Christian Borle, Pirelli (marking his Philharmonic debut); Kyle Brenn, Tobias Ragg (debut); Jay Armstrong Johnson,Anthony Hope (debut); Erin Mackey, Johanna (debut); and Olivier Award-winner Philip Quast, Judge Turpin (debut and New York stage debut).

Music Director Alan Gilbert conducts; Grant Sturiale is the assistant conductor; Lonny Price directs; Lonny Price and Matt Cowart are the producers; and Josh Rhodes is the choreographer.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Mr. Terfel, the great Welsh bass-baritone recently acclaimed for his Wagner performances, may be the most richly gifted singer ever to undertake the title role...His rich, pitch-dark voice soared into the auditorium with an enveloping intensity, filling the hall with Sweeney's thundering avowals of vengeance for the brutal treatment of his beloved wife. Mr. Terfel's acting wasn't always as expressive as his singing; he's got a mean, curled-lip snarl, but it seemed to do duty for just about all of Sweeney's moods. Ms. Thompson is hardly known as a musical theater specialist...Could she sing? Could she ever; the performance was by virtually all measures a triumphant one. Scuttling around the stage with a variety of silly walks, jabbering in a perfect cockney accent, and singing with impressive range and assurance (some more careful, less characterful stretches in her higher range notwithstanding), she put a lively personal stamp on the role...While this version of "Sweeney Todd" probably stinted on the murderous chills, the unexpected presence of this Broadway starcertainly sent a thrill of pleasure rippling through the audience.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Emma Thompson making her New York stage debut as amoral London pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett is the major draw, and she doesn't disappoint. But the real strength of this five-performance concert staging of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is hearing StephenSondheim's magnificent score played by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert. If director Lonny Price's concept lacks coherence and the ensemble could be more unified, leaving room for improvement before the show is filmed for future PBS broadcast this weekend, the exhilarating moments trump the weaknesses.

Scott Foundas, Variety: Emma Thompson makes a smashing Gotham stage debut as the meat-pie maven Mrs. Lovett in the New York Philharmonic's splendid staging of "Sweeney Todd," more than holding her own in a cast of Broadway vets and alongside a formidable Sweeney, opera star Bryn Terfel. Continuing on from his 2011 NY Phil staging of "Company," director Lonny Price offers a more conventional but no less powerful take on Stephen Sondheim's grand guignol revenge opera than John Doyle's stripped-down 2005 Broadway revival (in which the actors doubled as the orchestra), while what may be Sondheim's most robust symphonic score comes to vibrant life under the hand of conductor Alan Gilbert. Two nights of this limited five-performance run will be filmed for future broadcast on PBS' long-running "Live From Lincoln Center" series.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Terfel, while cutting an imposing figure and offering a deep baritone voice that suited such a chilling character, maintained a stony facial expression that hardly ever varied. Thompson, despite her considerable comedic energy and insight, proved unable to handle many of the songs. She has a passable singing voice but that's not sufficient for playing Mrs. Lovett. The production comes off as under-rehearsed, gimmicky and schizophrenic in tone and casting. But as conducted by Alan Gilbert, the score, arguably Sondheim's best, sounded as powerful as ever.

Kayla Epstein, The Guardian: Making her New York stage debut as Mrs Lovett (a role originated by Angela Lansbury), Thompson runs off with the show. Her Mrs Lovett is shrewd, conniving and utterly in control of the operation until the final moments. Her voice is silky one moment, brassy the next; it helps that the role is perfect for an imperfect voice...Thompson's partner in crime, however, could have asked her for a few acting tips. Terfel's intimidating bass-baritone is perfect for Sweeney Todd, and his 6ft 4in frame conveys menace, but Terfel's Sweeney comes across as a monster not a brute.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, The New York Post: Terfel is terrific in Lonny Price's production: He's a hulking presence with a voice that can rumble threateningly, but also ooze like an impossible rich caramel. He's a great combination of finesse and power, and his Sweeney has the requisite haunted, obsessive grimness. Terfel fits his role to a T, which can't quite be said of Thompson. She nails all of the role's comic elements - she's a veritable whirling dervish in the Act 2 opener, "God, That's Good!" - but she lacks Mrs. Lovett's street sass. This, after all, is a working-class survivor with dirt and blood under her fingernails, and Thompson comes across as a little too refined. Still, you can't say she's boring...let's hope she sticks with that show-tune business - she's a natural. If "Mame" ever comes back, she should have dibs.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Emma Thompson brought her quirky charm to Avery Fisher Hall on Wednesday night in the New York Philharmonic's concert version of "Sweeney Todd." Playing the daft Mrs. Lovett, the worst pie-maker in London - a role originated by Angela Lansbury in the classic Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical - Thompson showed off a robust singing voice and plenty of comic chops...Thompson was the perfect foil for the vengeful demon barber played by opera star's Bryn Terfel, whose burly baritone was a fine fit for Sondheim's beautiful and haunting songs. This was a supersized "Sweeney Todd," featuring the entire Philharmonic, which brought polish and lushness to Jonathan Tunick's thrilling orchestrations.

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Thompson sings surprisingly well, she quips, she does pratfalls, she swipes props from members of the New York Philharmonic - including, at one point, conductor Alan Gilbert's baton. In short, she nearly steals the show out from under her very talented (and admittedly stronger-voiced) co-stars...Broadway vet Jay Armstrong Johnson (Hands on a Hardbody) makes a charming, fresh-voiced suitor to Sweeney's flax-haired daughter (Chaplin's Erin Mackey), and the Welsh opera star Bryn Terfel delivers his strong, rich baritone to the title role and proves himself a suitably creepy leading man.

Photo Credit: Walter McBride

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