Theater review: ‘Sweeney Todd’ — 2.5 stars

It plays through March 8 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

It took 14 years but Welsh opera star Bryn Terfel, who was supposed to play the title role in a concert production of “Sweeney Todd” with the New York Philharmonic more than a decade ago but had to withdraw due to back surgery, is finally appearing in the Sondheim masterpiece.

Lonny Price, who directed the 2000 production (which featured George, Hearn, Patti LuPone and Neil Patrick Harris), has returned for this staging. Terfel is joined by an equally starry cast including British actress Emma Thompson, who is making her New York stage debut, Christian Borle and Philip Quast.

This marks the first professional production of “Sweeney Todd” in New York since Tim Burton’s acclaimed 2007 film version. Before that, there was a scaled-down, reconceived Broadway revival in 2005 in which the actors also played the instruments.

Only a handful of people noticed how the Philharmonic never announced who would play the small but pivotal role of the Beggar Woman. At least on opening night, it turned out to be musical theater virtuoso Audra McDonald, who also played the role in 2000.

At the beginning, the cast arrived onstage in formal attire. But pretty soon they rowdily started to knock stuff down and change costumes to reveal the aggressive, grunge-like style that would characterize the staging, with much of the stage covered in graffiti art and ensemble members raising their fists in salute to Sweeney.

Terfel, while cutting an imposing figure and offering a deep baritone voice that suited such a chilling character, maintained a stony facial expression that hardly ever varied. Thompson, despite her considerable comedic energy and insight, proved unable to handle many of the songs. She has a passable singing voice but that’s not sufficient for playing Mrs. Lovett.

The production comes off as under-rehearsed, gimmicky and schizophrenic in tone and casting. But as conducted by Alan Gilbert, the score, arguably Sondheim’s best, sounded as powerful as ever.


If you go

“Sweeney Todd” plays through Saturday at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. nyphil.org.

MATT WINDMAN. amNewYork theater critic