Much was made when in 2005, Patti LuPone finally got to play Mrs. Lovett on Broadway, a role seemingly made to order for her, in Sweeney Todd. The thing is, it wasn't the first time she got to play the role. Four years earlier, in 2001, she starred opposite George Hearn (who was the replacement Sweeney in the original Broadway production) is a concert production that played briefly in New York, San Francisco and the Ravinia Music Festival outside of Chicago.
I got to see that production at Ravinia production with my folks, and it was absolutely terrific. (I still think that the show is best served when having a big, imposing set, so you can see the infamous barber's chair and furnace. But great casting and imagination have their place.)
And this production sure had great casting. In addition to Hearn and LuPone, the show featured Davis Gaines as the lovesick sailor, and renown opera star Sherrill Milnes as Judge Turpin. And also, as the young boy Toby, the role was played by Neil Patrick Harris. He was wonderful -- but they all were.
I think the concert staging of the recent TV production was better than that of the earlier touring show. And while the casting was excellent, I think it was better all around in the 2001 version. Still, nice to have both to choose between. (But nicer to have seen the first one live...)
The San Francisco version was taped, and presented on PBS. Here's Neil Patrick Harris and Patti LuPone with the song, "Not While I'm Around," with a couple of minutes of dialogue scene after.