NEW YORK | There’s a new version of the frightful musical “Sweeney Todd” playing in downtown Manhattan that’s undeniably meatier than most.
Visitors to the Barrow Street Theatre planning to see the show about a homicidal barber whose victims are ground up into pies are offered the chance to munch on real meat pies before the curtain goes up.
“It adds something very fun, pre-show,” says producer Rachel Edwards. “It just gives people a different way to experience something that they might not have thought of before.”
The meat pies – created by a former White House executive pastry chef – are part of a new wave of real food invading the world of theater, upping the realism as well as the immersive experience.
Pierogi are tossed to patrons at the Broadway musical “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” and real pizza slices are eaten onstage at “A Bronx Tale.”
More pies – this time, sweet dessert ones – appear in the hit Broadway musical “Waitress,” where delicious odors waft through the theater, thanks to a convection oven in the lobby. Pie consultant Stacy Donnelly creates some 15 real pies a week for the actors to use onstage and up to 1,600 mason jar pies are sold at a concession stand.
The use of real food on stages and in auditoriums adds a dash of genuineness to the stagecraft, though theater professionals counsel that it can’t be forced. A few seasons ago, Hugh Jackman gutted and prepared a real raw fish with fennel and lemon onstage at “The River.” It made sense – he was playing a fisherman.
That year, he was rivaled in culinary onstage skills by Carey Mulligan, who created a spaghetti Bolognese during the first act of the hyper-realistic revival of “Skylight” that left the whiff of sausage lingering deliciously during intermission.
Theater creators say audiences paying hundreds of dollars a ticket demand more nowadays. “People expect the realness of something. They don’t want to see a rubber fish. They want you to go the extra mile,” said Donnelly.
Barry Weissler, the Tony-winning producer of “Waitress,” said real food has a long history in the theater, citing shows by The Group Theater in the 1930s where meals were prepared onstage.
Edwards, founder and producer of the imaginative Tooting Arts Club in London, dreamed up the idea of setting “Sweeney Todd” in a real pie shop and persuaded the 32-seat historic store Harrington’s to host it, giving the show a “pressure cooker, chamber of horrors atmosphere,” she said.
Edwards transferred the show to the West End and now has faithfully recreated Harrington’s at the Barrow Theatre, where strangers can break bread together on communal benches before the show. So far, about 75 percent of patrons are pre-ordering pies.