“Sweeney Todd”

Royal Festival Hall, London • 7 July 2007 • 7:30pm
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler.

Semi-staged concert. London Philharmonic Orchestra, Stephen Barlow. Director: David Freeman. With Bryn Terfel (Sweeney Todd), Maria Friedman (Mrs. Lovett), Daniel Evans (Tobias), Daniel Boys (Anthony), Emma Williams (Johanna), Philip Quast (Judge Turpin), Steve Elias (The Beadle), Rosemary Ashe (The Beggar Woman)…

I had been lucky to see Bryn Terfel’s masterful take on Sweeney Todd at Chicago’s Lyric Theatre in December of 2002… so I had great expectations for this semi-staged presentation, and rightly so because it turned out to be a hugely enjoyable experience.

Terfel brought a rare intensity to the part. Most of the time he sounded like each syllable could have cut through steel. He was outstanding throughout. Maria Friedman was a very good surprise, as her voice was fuller and more powerful than usual. She went 200% for the laughs and didn’t miss one. (She’ll be forgiven for her blank halfway through “A Little Priest” — thank God Terfel knew her lyrics, too — and for offering Tobias his bonbon far too early during “While I’m Around.”)

The rest of the cast was equally excellent, with the always reliable Philip Quast impersonating a fine Judge Turpin and a new face to me, Daniel Boys, as one of the very best Anthony’s I’ve seen.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra gave a fine rendition of Sondheim’s beguiling score. There were a lot less musicians than at the New York Philharmonic concert a few years ago, but the magic worked perfectly in the fine new acoustics of the hall.

Interesting how they spent over £90 million on renovating the Festival Hall, and it looks exactly the same as before. During the interval, I saw three VIPs within five minutes: Trevor Nunn, Gareth Valentine and Joanna Lumley (who looked stunning and was sitting exactly two rows behind me).

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