By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
AN amusingly complicated moment in the new production of “Sweeney Todd” at the Eugene O’Neill Theater surely resonates with every musician who has ever played in a crowded pit. Not to mention every composer who has ever tried to get a maximum variety of sounds from a minimum number of instruments.
During the song “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir,” Benjamin Magnuson, who portrays the young sailor Anthony, sits in the corner plucking open strings on a cello with his right hand. His left hand holds a triangle, which Patti LuPone, as Mrs. Lovett, strikes (“pling, pling”) with a metal stick. Meanwhile, Ms. LuPone, who also plays the tuba in the show, blows into her cumbersome instrument, fingering its valves with her free left hand to produce an elemental bass riff.
The makeshift instrumental interplay lends a slapstick element to the scene, one of the few high-spirited moments in this grim Stephen Sondheim masterpiece. The 10-member cast in this production has been dazzling audiences and critics not only for acting and singing the musical so compellingly, but for playing the score at the same time. Musicians who attend the show, though, may see things the other way around.
That 10 musicians are performing Mr. Sondheim’s long and complex score from memory is a musical feat in itself. If they simply sat in place and played their instruments while singing their roles, this would be impressive enough. But they also get up and act!