Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies may be suspect, but there’s plenty to savor in Signature Theater’s production of “Sweeney Todd,” especially the performances of its principals. Signature’s production of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical during its inaugural season a decade ago emphatically introduced the theater and its talented artistic director, Eric Schaeffer, to the D.C. community. It’s been an uphill ride ever since, with Schaeffer set to make his Broadway directing debut next month with the opening of the Sondheim revue “Putting It Together.”
In this superb remounting, Schaeffer has toned down the mirth and accentuated the deeper currents in the musical. Although humorous and lively, there’s no hiding the gruesome plot and flowing blood. This production takes you on a chilling ride to its ghastly conclusion.
Broadway actor Norm Lewis has been cast as the “demon barber,” and he’s a study in calculated revenge. His brooding eyes and intense but understated demeanor are clearly those of a wronged man seeking to even the score. Lewis convincingly handles acting and singing demands that call for a sensitive and caring father one minute and determined killer the next.
Donna Migliaccio is delightful in a reprise performance as the villainous meat pie maker, Mrs. Lovett. She deftly captures the absurd extremes of this fun-loving accomplice and sensitive romantic — warm and caring as she grinds up victims and falls for Todd. Migliaccio has a terrific voice and a feel for Sondheim’s inventive numbers, especially “By the Sea” and the melodic “Not While I’m Around.”
Other standouts include Lawrence Redmond as the evil judge, Dana Krueger as the beggar woman and Michael Sharp as the trusting servant. Another plus is the chorus of Londoners that overwhelms Signature’s intimate setting with the show’s broad array of powerful numbers.
It’s all packaged nicely inside Lou Stancari’s seedy multitiered set and showcased by Daniel MacLean Wagner’s shadow-filled lighting. Anne Kennedy’s shabby costumes are also first-rate. Small wonder this version of “Sweeney” has been extended to 10 weeks, longest engagement ever for Signature.