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Singers with chops: Piper Theatre serves up bloody ‘Sweeney Todd’

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Call him the demon barber of Third Street.

The Piper Theatre Company opens its 10th season at the Old Stone House in Park Slope on July 2 with an enticingly stripped-down production of “Sweeney Todd,” the infamous Sondheim musical about a murderous barber and his mistress serving up hot slices of revenge in Victorian London. The artists behind the gorgeous gore-fest say it is to die for.

“It’s a beast of a show,” said Hannah Scott, who plays cannibal cook Mrs. Lovett. “It’s musically complicated but written in a way that the characters are a hundred percent rounded and thought through.”

The outdoor space in Washington Park has become a welcoming hub for free theater during the company’s time performing there, says the show’s artistic director.

“When I first got to Piper, the space was a parking lot,” said Michael Buffer, who has been with the company for eight years. “Now it’s this enormous beautiful field that’s really a community hot spot.”

Audience members tend to arrive early with blankets and picnic baskets so they can claim a spot on the grass from which to enjoy the raw, open air productions. The Old Stone House theater has no curtain or backstage to hide actors between scenes, and Scott said being exposed to the audience and the elements makes the performance even more thrilling.

“There’s a vulnerability to it because you’re never out of sight,” she said. “It’s exciting— maybe it will rain, or maybe the wind will come up.”

The Piper production uses minimal staging and props, aside from an enormous, abstract piece of industrial meat-chopping machinery that embodies what audience want from the sinister musical, said Buffer.

“I think they’re really coming for the blood,” he said. “They want to see the cuts, the drops, the body disappear. It’s kind of a cathartic revenge story, as gory and consumptive and straight-faced as it is about it. People — not to be too trite about it — they eat it up.”

The audience can also gorge on the show’s concession stand, which will serve meat pies made specially for the production. Buffer said several bakeries declined their request for Sweeney-themed goods, but patisserie Sweet Pistachio was up for the rather morbid challenge.

Scott says she’ll never look at meat pies quite the same way again, but then, she was always a little suspicious of the savory treats.

“Whatever goes into it, you never ask,” she said.

“Sweeney Todd” at the Old Stone House in Washington Park [336 Third Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, www.theoldstonehouse.org, (718) 768–3195]. July 2–3, 9–11, and 16–18 at 8 pm. Free (donations welcome).

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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