Manoel Felciano (Tobias) and Patti LuPone (Mrs. Lovett) in a scene from
Manoel Felciano (Tobias) and Patti LuPone (Mrs. Lovett) in a scene from Sweeney Todd. Paul Kolnik
When Stephen Sondheim's dark masterpiece Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979, it featured a cast of 27 and an orchestra of the same size.
Two weeks ago, a new Broadway revival opened featuring just 10 actors — and those actors are the orchestra. It's a stripped-down production of the musical, which is about a murderous barber and a woman who bakes his victims into meat pies.
Patti LuPone plays Mrs. Lovett — and the tuba. She and her fellow actors are performing triple duty in this highly stylized production: singing, acting and playing multiple musical instruments.
While Broadway has never seen anything quite like this, it's a style that director John Doyle has been exploring at various small theaters in England over the last decade. It has Sondheim's approval as well: He calls the new orchestrations by Sarah Travis "brilliant, just brilliant."