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Music Goes Onstage in 'Sweeney Todd'

When Stephen Sondheim's dark masterpiece Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979, it featured a cast of 27 and an orchestra of the same size.

Two weeks ago, a new Broadway revival opened featuring just 10 actors -- and those actors are the orchestra. It's a stripped-down production of the musical, which is about a murderous barber and a woman who bakes his victims into meat pies.

Patti LuPone plays Mrs. Lovett -- and the tuba. She and her fellow actors are performing triple duty in this highly stylized production: singing, acting and playing multiple musical instruments.

While Broadway has never seen anything quite like this, it's a style that director John Doyle has been exploring at various small theaters in England over the last decade. It has Sondheim's approval as well: He calls the new orchestrations by Sarah Travis "brilliant, just brilliant."

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Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.
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