Billboard on Broadway Podcast: An In-Your-Face 'Sweeney Todd'

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Joan Marcus
Thom Sesmaas as Sweeney Todd and Sally Ann Triplettas as Mrs. Lovett. 

In the pantheon of musical theater masterpieces, Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is one of the most revered -- a dark, and often darkly funny, show beloved for its uncommonly witty lyrics and opera-quality score. And for over a year now, the show has been running in very different form at New York's Barrow Street Theatre.

In the Tooting Arts Club's immersive production of Sweeney Todd, the theater is transformed into a grimy London pie shop and the actors placed disconcertingly close to the audience. As stars of the current cast, Thom Sesma (Sweeney), Sally Ann Tripplett (Mrs. Lovett), Delaney Westfall (Johanna) and Billy Harrigan Tighe (Anthony) reveal in their recent visit to the Billboard on Broadway podcast, it makes for a memorable evening for the actors and the audience alike.

"The audience is watching the audience, almost like they're characters in the play," says Sesma. "We're inviting them to be engaged into the play."

Performing in an intimate space, often among the audience, has forced the cast, all of whom have appeared on Broadway before, to reassess its dramatic approach -- and to bring more personal interpretations of their characters to the stage, such as it is. "I've tried to bring my quirkiness and weirdness to it, and it's been easier because we're allowed to be more subtle and more real with the audience right there," says Westfall, who plays Sweeney's flighty, estranged daughter. "We don't have to make large choices so the back of the house can see it."

Tighe, who plays her love interest, the romantic Anthony, agrees. "The space allows for the kind of honesty we don't typically get to work with on the Broadway stage," he adds. "When you're doing a show eight times a week and your audience is less than a foot away from you, you're held accountable -- you can't get away with any BS. Everything has to feel natural and real."

In their chat with host Rebecca Milzoff, the cast discuss the vocal challenges of singing Sondheim while running around a theater, the show's enduring appeal, and their most memorable audience interactions -- including the night Sondheim himself came to the show.


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