SWEENEY TODD by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler (Mirvish). At the Princess of Wales (300 King West). To December 9. $30-$94. 416-872-1212. Rating: NN
There's something wrong with a production of Sweeney Todd that fails to provide even one chilling moment.
Director John Doyle brings some clever ideas to this touring version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler 's Grand Guignol thriller about the vengeful barber Sweeney Todd and his partner in crime, the inventive pie-maker Mrs. Lovett.
He's created a chamber-music version in which the performers, always onstage, are also the orchestra. The setting resembles an asylum of sorts, the actors its staff or inmates and the key prop a black coffin put to many uses.
Sondheim's intricate score is well served in the cut-down version, but Doyle keeps the audience at a distance from the work's emotions - characters often speak out to viewers rather than to each other - and all feeling is drained away, especially for those far back in the house. Just as fatal, if you don't know the piece going in, following the story might be a problem.
Understudy David Garry has stepped into the title role, and while physically he has the barber's fearsome glower, he suggests none of the anger or tension underneath. Judy Kaye 's Mrs. Lovett, with an extra dollop of music hall, has great diction and comic timing. Also memorable is Edmund Bagnell 's naive Tobias, whose "offstage" character, complete with frightened eyes and manic grin, is always caught up watching the action.
It's nice to see Anthony not cast as a pretty juvenile, and Benjamin Magnuson brings a good voice and exuberance to the role; Lauren Molina 's Joanna, the object of his affection (and others' lust), brings a fascinating somnambulist quality to the part. Other parts are less well cast.