Murder, Mayhem and Meat Pies: Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre



I know it sounds a bit flaky (pun absolutely intended) but when we heard that there would be a new off-Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Tony Award-winning musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Barrow Street Theatre, Lynn and I could barely contain our excitement.



Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Harrington’s, the oldest working pie and mash shop in London. Image courtesy of the Sweeney Todd Facebook page.

There were a number of reasons, of course. First, we had seen a Sweeney Todd production years ago by a traveling tour back when we lived in Arizona, and it was very, very good. But we had always regretted that we hadn’t caught it while in New York. Second, we knew from previous Off-Broadway adventures–take, for example, In the Heights–that plays and musicals at smaller venues offer a much more intimate experience. Third, we had never seen a show at beloved Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village, though we’d passed by it so many times during our other excursions. And finally, we’d read that the revival began in London a few years back and was produced after-hours at Harrington’s Pie and Mash, one of London’s oldest pie shops, and that Barrow Street Theatre had painstakingly re-created the shop inside the venue.



Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

And on all counts, we were not disappointed. The production was excellent, as intimate and interactive as we’d hoped. The stage design was inspired: the historic space featured tiles, grimy yellow walls, a narrow countertop, and a menu board which included daily specials. It was like actually stepping into Harrington’s. Audience members​ were seated at dining tables in lieu of traditional theater seats, and the talented Sweeney Todd cast utilized the entire “pie shop”–both upper and lower levels–as their performance area. The actors pulled audience members into the show. They also consorted with us in the lobby during intermission. (We overheard the evil judge asking a couple of audience members where they were seated. When they looked nervous, he said “At least I’m not the demon barber!”)



Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Pie available as a pre-theater meal. Image courtesy of the Sweeney Todd Facebook page.
Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Former White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses. Image courtesy of the Sweeney Todd Facebook page.

And there are real pies! As part of a pre-show experience, former White House Pastry chef, Bill Yosses, is offering theatergoers a meal of pie and mash in the theater/pie shop. Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre is a fun update to a classic, and an unforgettable immersive theater experience.

Visit their website for additional information and tickets.

Tip: $39 lottery tickets are available for each performance and you can try your luck here. And if the interactive part of this experience scares you, shoot for seats in the front row of the balcony. You’ll have a great view but remain separate from most of the action.



Pair it with:

Savory pie at Jones Wood Foundry

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Lynn and I decided to forgo the pre-theater pie (though, by all accounts, it was quite good), instead opting for a selection that our readers might enjoy sans this theater experience. But that doesn’t mean we opted out of the theme! Meat pies are sort of the grisly gimmick of the musical, so of course we visited a British Pub.

Jones Wood Foundry, an Upper East Side gem (yep, I used “gem” and “Upper East Side” in the same sentence) describes itself as a casually elegant, food-centric pub with a friendly staff, an expansive bar and a secret courtyard. And they weren’t lying. The food, particularly the savory pie, is well above what one would expect from a pub.

On this particular occasion, I went with the Pie of the Day, a delectable chicken and vegetable pie. The staff is not only friendly, but also knowledgeable​ and attentive. The bar in the front is separate from the more intimate dining area below, serving both casual drinkers and serious diners simultaneously. And that “secret courtyard”? Yeah, it’s lovely. The weather happened to be perfect on that spring evening and we took full advantage. The whole experience was so enjoyable, we couldn’t help but linger just a bit longer than we would normally find appropriate.

– J.

Shining City at the Irish Repertory Theatre


Ten years after a successful and critically acclaimed Broadway production, the Irish Repertory Theatre’s revival of Conor McPherson’s Shining City has very, very big shoes to fill — and to our delight, fill them they have, indeed.

Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly and starring Matthew Broderick, Billy Carter, Lisa Dwan, and James Russell, Shining City is a play that, when distilled to its essence, conveys a simple, unassuming ghost story — both figuratively and literally, though the figurative is much more compelling in this case. Staged largely in an office flat in Dublin and revealed primarily through a series of sessions between a patient and his therapist, it is a narrative wherein the apparition functions as metaphor for guilt over decisions made, actions taken, words spoken (and unspoken), injuries received and secrets harbored, and where hauntings are just the external manifestations of profound and debilitating regrets.

Billy Carter and Lisa Dwan in SHINING CITY at Irish Rep. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
Billy Carter and Matthew Broderick in SHINING CITY at Irish Rep. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Our measure for how good anything is — from a play to a concert, a museum exhibition to a poetry reading — comes down to the quality and length of the conversation that immediately follows its conclusion, and Shining City did not disappoint. Of particular note, we found Matthew Broderick’s turn as John captivating. We concluded that each time we see Mr. Broderick perform, he embraces ever more challenging material, and as a result, brings something new and unexpected to his craft. Another conversation involved the excellent direction of Ciarán O’Reilly, lighting design of Michael Gottlieb and set design of Charlie Corcoran, which were best showcased in quiet moments of transition in which the passage of time was beautifully captured by the subtle movement of set pieces and the representation of dusk, dawn, and myriad hours in-between.

Irish Repertory Theatre’s Shining City runs through July 3 at its newly-renovated theater in Chelsea.  Its intimate setting is the perfect incubator for the thought-provoking material.  For tickets and schedules, visit their website.

All Shining City photos are courtesy of Carol Rosegg.

Location:
132 W 22nd St



Pair it with:

Dinner at Boqueria

Boqueria NYC

Boqueria NYC

Boqueria NYC

Boqueria NYC

Having vacationed in Barcelona many, many years ago, we often find ourselves missing the rich character of Spanish food.  We are fortunate that New York City offers quite an array of options to fill the void.  Boqueria, with three convenient locations, offers a variety of tapas favorites, but it was the heartier Paella de Mariscos that brought us to their Flatiron location, conveniently located a stone’s throw away from the Irish Repertory Theatre. The contrasting textures of saffron-rich, fluffy-crispy Bomba rice, with salsa verde and a generous portion of seafood was very satisfying. But it was the starter of Gambas al Ajillo, with its hunk of crusty bread and brandy, garlic and pepper-infused olive oil that knocked our socks off.  Finishing off with churros was a no-brainer, but in addition to the traditional Churros con Chocolate option, Boqueria also offers Churros Rellenos, which are Nutella-filled instead.  Guess which one we picked?

Location:
53 W 19th St

Hours:
Mon-Thurs 12pm-10:30pm (bar menu until 11pm)
Fri 12pm-11:30pm (bar menu until midnight)
Sat 11am-11:30pm (bar menu until midnight)
Sun 11am-10:30pm (bar menu until 11pm)

– J.

Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King at Cherry Lane Theatre

Standing in the small bend on Commerce Street in the West Village, waiting for the doors of the Cherry Lane Theatre to open, I take a quick glance around and note that Hasan Minhaj’s demographic is mostly what you’d expect: young and ethnic (myself included – well, definitely ethnic, young, not so much) .  And unsurprisingly, he starts out his performance acknowledging the “brown people” in the audience.  I cringe a little, fearing we’re in for a stale series of immigrant jokes that panders to a growing minority.  Thankfully, it pulls out of that treacherous territory quickly.  

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Hasan Minhaj is probably most familiar as a correspondent on The Daily Show.  But his background is varied, and it includes experience as a storyteller on The Moth (which we’ve featured on the blog here).  Hasan’s time with The Moth serves him well in this endeavor, as his one-man show, Homecoming King, falls into a comfortable nook where storytelling and stand-up comedy overlap.  He comes across like that really funny friend who’s telling you a good story over dinner.  The tales are deeply personal, a trademark of the millennials who have consistently shared, posted, blogged and tweeted throughout their lives.  While some jokes land better than others, it’s clear where Hasan succeeds is in getting his audience to invest in him and his journey, as they collectively sigh, cry out and laugh at his shenanigans.  He exposes himself as a mean older sibling, as a coward, as a vindictive ex, and we can all relate.  He touches on hypocrisy and bigotry, but the themes that are core to his story—seeking acceptance from our parents, having our hearts broken by a first love, chasing impossible dreams—are universal.  By the end of the show, when he proudly recalls being mentored by an idol and landing the gig at The Daily Show, the audience is fully rooting for him and sharing in his success, and that is no small feat.

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Homecoming King is on an extended run at the Cherry Lane Theatre through January 30, 2016.  The theatre, which is situated on a charming street in the West Village (okay, I agree, they’re all charming and we hate everyone who gets to live there), is the longest continuously running Off-Broadway theatre and their mission is to “cultivate an urban artist colony, honor our groundbreaking history, and engage audiences in creating theater that illuminates contemporary issues, and at its best, transforms the spirit.”  The intimate setting enhances the experience, and it is a good match indeed.

For more information on the show and to buy tickets, visit their website here.

Tip: General Rush $20 tickets are  available at the Cherry Lane box office from 2 hours before showtime. Limit 2 per patron, subject to availability.

Location:
38 Commerce Street

Pair it with:

Dessert at Dominique Ansel Kitchen

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There is no shortage of quaint, picture-perfect restaurants to dine at in the West Village.  So pick one, then head to Dominique Ansel Kitchen for something sweet before the show.  Dominique Ansel, who created and patented the famous cronut, opened this outlet as a “hybrid bakery”, where pastries are prepared so that they can be enjoyed in the timeliest way possible. For the Chocolate Mousse, that means it is made-to-order, created once requested.  And for the Honeycrisp Apple Blossom Tart, that means it has been allowed to sit for the right amount of time prior to consumption.  There is bleacher seating inside, which gives you a great view of the expansive, open kitchen as you make your way through that life-altering tea-ramisu (tiramisu made with black tea instead of coffee?  What??).  So build in some time and leave some room in your belly for the creative, delightful desserts offered here.  You won’t regret it.

Location:
137 Seventh Avenue South (between Charles and W 10th Sts.)

Hours:
Mon – Sun : 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

– L.