Recently I had the good fortune to see the current traveling production of Sweeney Todd, starring David Hess as Sweeney and with Mrs. Lovett portrayed by the dynamo that is Judy Kaye. The show (which uses John Doyle's sparse and minimalist version of the Stephen Sondheim classic) was so good I went back and got tickets to see it a second time, mainly because of Judy, who is the best Mrs. Lovett ever.
I'm not the only one who thinks so. When Judy got her chance to temporarily stand in for Patti LuPone in the role in Broadway, everyone was smitten with her and maybe just a little sorry to see Patti come back. (I still love you though, Patti, and someday want to see you perform "A Cottage For Sale" live)
(And as for the other two great Lovetts of our time, Helena Bonham Carter lacks the zany madcap qualities the role usually calls for, but does turn in one of the smoothiest and most listenable performances. Which would be the opposite of Angela Lansbury's original portrayal, which is voiced in a high-pitched cockney screech that peels paint from the walls and sends household pets scrambling. But her insane-womanchild performance of the character is flawlessly frightening.)
But back to Judy Kaye. The Sweeney tour is still going on this year, so seek her out. Even if you couldn't give two fucks for Broadway musicals. Sweeney Todd is no ordinary musical, and Judy is no ordinary singer. The sight of her marching in a black miniskirt, white apron, and torn knee-high fishnets while playing a tuba will haunt my dreams for years to come. She's totally hot.
Previously, Judy was Madelaine Kahn's understudy for On The Twentieth Century and went on take over the role herself, she was Tony-nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in Mamma Mia, and played the notorious Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir (which I'd dearly love to see).
- - JSH