‘Sweeney Todd’ slices and dices at Signature Theatre in Arlington

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Sweeney Todd' at Signature Theatre (Part 1)

Watch out for bloody barber shears — the worst pies in London are coming to Shirlington, Virginia!

Signature Theatre stages “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” running now through July 9.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to introduce this incredible story to the next generation of theatergoers,” lead actor Nathaniel Stampley told WTOP. “There’s really not a bad seat in the house, and you will hear some of the most glorious music, some of the wonderful local artists here in D.C., Bryonha (Marie) and I are in town from New York, but this is a top-caliber production of one of musical theater’s greatest shows ever.”

Based on the 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and Hugh Wheeler (book) that won eight Tony Awards on Broadway, the story is set in Victorian London, where wrongfully banished barber Benjamin Barker returns as Sweeney Todd (Stampley), seeking revenge against the corrupt judge who sent him away. Aided by his downstairs neighbor, the baker Mrs. Lovett (Bryonha Marie), the two hatch a scheme to terrorize the city.

“(The baking) business is going poorly. The cost of meat is very expensive, and Sweeney Todd is trying to inflict justice on different individuals in his community. So he ends up killing some of his customers, while they’re in his barber chair,” Stampley said. “What do you with these bodies? Mrs. Lovett has this brilliant idea of why don’t we take these bodies and turn them into meat and serve them to the customers?”

The role has been played by countless stage and screen actors, including Len Cariou (“Blue Bloods”), who won a Tony in the original Broadway cast in 1979; Brian Stokes Mitchell at the Kennedy Center in 2002; Johnny Depp in the 2007 film version by Tim Burton; and currently Josh Groban in the Tony-nominated 2023 Broadway revival.

“I try to make every role my own because by no means could I ever fill the shoes of these giants,” Stampley said. “It was definitely a bucket list role for me, but the wonderful thing about live theater is that … every single production is something very different. This is Signature Theatre’s fourth production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ in their storied history, so obviously four different Sweeneys and each with a different director.”

This production is directed by Sarna Lapine, who works with scenic designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, costume designer Robert Perdziola and wig designer Anne Nesmith to craft a deliciously bloody London barbershop.

Music director Jon Kalbfleisch orchestrates the beloved Sondheim songbook, which features such memorable musical numbers as “My Friends,” “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” and “Not While I’m Around.”

“There’s lots of bops,” Stampley said. “There’s ‘A Little Priest’ at the end of Act 1, ‘Pretty Women,’ which is a fantastic duet with the judge and Sweeney Todd; there’s a fun number called ‘Worst Pies in London’ that Mrs. Lovett does; there’s a beautiful ballad called ‘Johanna,’ just beautiful, lush melodies with wonderful orchestrations. Here at Signature, you are so spoiled because you get to hear 16 incredible musicians playing this incredible score.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Sweeney Todd' at Signature Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to the full conversation here.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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