SWEENEY TODD – AT CENTRAL SCHOOL OCTOBER 26-29 – A PERFECT MOOD SETTER FOR HALLOWEEN – BUT FOR ADULTS ONLY

I was very excited to attend the rehearsal of KC Productions’ newest theater piece – Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. The director Keith Chamberlain graciously allowed me to watch as our talented local cast strove to bring this very challenging musical to life.

For those of you not familiar with this very dark comedic play, Sweeney Todd is based on a series of anonymously written penny dreadfuls called The String of Pearls, which were later combined into a melodrama by Christopher Bond then turned into a musical by Stephen "Into the Woods" Sondheim. The shocking tale is of a man whose life is destroyed by the corrupt politicians in his town who send him unjustly to a penal colony in Australia in order that they might pursue his very beautiful wife. Todd returns 15 years later and seeks a unique brand of particularly gruesome revenge with the help of a slightly batty baker. Together they descend fully into the madness that wrath and vengeance will bring.

The original production starred Angela Lansbury who had to be persuaded to accept the role by Sondheim himself. Ms. Lansbury’s 1979 manifestation of Mrs. Lovett’s singing style in the manner of a dotty music hall performer established Lovett’s personality for everyone who has come after her. Len Cariou was hand picked by Sondheim as Sweeney Todd.

While others have tried to say Sweeney Todd is an allegory for the limited historic scope of the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the average man, Sondheim himself disagrees and makes the case for a more timeless interpretation: "Sweeney Todd is a man bent on personal revenge, the way we all are in one way or another, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the time he lived in, as far as I'm concerned.”

My own personal view is that Sweeney Todd is intended to be a demonstration of the Confucian aphorism: "If you go to seek vengeance, you should dig two graves."

While NOT for kids, it is a complex classic replete with music very difficult to play or sing. Dissonant, syncopated, halting in melody, woven with multiple counterpoint parts, yet the musicians and singers turn the harshly written lyrics and tunes into catchy mesmerizing songs which capture the essence of the dark torment into which Todd has sunk, including, my favorite, a clever but chilling song called "A Little Priest".

Sweeney Todd is being staged at Central School, the historic building naturally accentuating the old world atmosphere.

So go see Sweeney Todd October 26 – 29 as the perfect lead up to Halloween. But whatever you do – don’t plan on a shave there and ………. don’t eat the meat pies.

Lara Connolly – Mrs. Lovett

Michael Davis – Sweeney Todd

Curry Burton – Judge Turpin

Ashley Traughber – Joanna

Tyler Brumback – Anthony

Evan Seago – Tobias

Kelly Rowland – beggar woman

Travis Stegall – Beadle

Jeff Johns Pirelli

Caleb Olbrych – Jonas Fog

Haley Cooley – young Lucy

Ensemble: Sarah Broussard, Ryan Byrne, Heather Champagne, Dylan Conley, Kathleen Evans, Steven Fox, Bob Goodson, Joel Jacob, Amy Phillips, Tim Smith, Stacey Solak, Ella Theriot, Gabriel Townsley, Jamie Young

Director – Keith Chamberlain

Piano – Andrew Steiner

 

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4 thoughts on “SWEENEY TODD – AT CENTRAL SCHOOL OCTOBER 26-29 – A PERFECT MOOD SETTER FOR HALLOWEEN – BUT FOR ADULTS ONLY”

  1. I'd disagree with Homeschool Mom over one thing in her review of Sweeney Tood. It IS suitable for kids. I don't mean four year olds. But I recall reading about Sweeney Todd when I was about nine years old and thinking, 'Oh gruesome. He makes pies out of his victims." Kids LOVE horror and the idea of cutting up of bodies etc, mainly because they don't understand quite what it means.

    Sweeney Todd – subtitled 'The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' (which I always laugh at because I worked in London's famous Fleet Street, the home of Britain's national newspapers, for many years, and there were many who thought it was an appropriate vengeance for a cut-throatn hack )  – is in its own way a kind of knockabout satire. I'm not too sure it's about vengeance at all. And of coure the writer stole the making-of-people-pies theme straight from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.

    There is currently a debate in England about university students – thus girls and boys (or women and men) of 18 + being WARNED when they do Shakespeare about the gory stuff.

    Warned…? We LOVED the gory stuff, and I think kids would love a small-town production of Sweeney Todd.

    Confusing perhaps for American readers, is the fact that in Cockney rhyming slang 'Sweeney Todd' means – Flying Squad. In rhyming slang you take the last word of a phrase and it becomes something with the same sound. Thus Todd – Squad. The Flying Squad was an elite corps of policemen within Scotland Yard.

    And for the whole of the 70's there was an amazingly successful crime series on TV called –  'The Sweeney' (about the Flying Squad) with some rough cops who always talked about carrying 'shooters'. That is that unlike most English bobbies they frequently carried guns. Shock! Horror! A policeman with a gun.

    So delve a little deeper into Sweeney Todd, and you get Shakespeare and English TV in the 70's.

    And another English reference which gives greater knowledge of the Sweeney Tood myth.. Meat pies are – or used to be – the staple diet of the English lumpen proletariat, particularly at football (soccer) matches. Held in one hand and eaten with bits of the contents frequently dripping on one's clothes. Perfect. A comedian whose name escapes me had a catchphrase, 'Ee by gum I could just eat a meat pie." So the pie had an extra significance in English life.

    My view is – TAKE THE KIDS!!!  Just don't take pies as a snack during the performance, or eat them on the way home. You'll find your appetite for the pie has diminished.

  2. LOL Great comments! You DO have a point about kids – especially American ones – nowadays who seem to be a lot more innured to gore than we were as kids. I know grown ups who to this day are a bit squeamish over The Wizard of Oz because it scared them as kids. But today kids watch whole cities being blown up in the likes of Transformer movies and even Superman. And well done spot connection on Titus Andronicus. I watched a version of it filmed with Anthony Hopkins – one of the goriest movies I've ever experienced. All I can say is that Shakespeare must have been in a VERY bad mood when he wrote that!

    I wanted to say something about the Fleet Street newspaper connection but didn't – I'm glad YOU did!!! More appropriate to come from you.

    And the cockney slang term would never have occurred to me. Again – a wonderful tid bit. So the writer is making a police reference – like finding out the Joker's real name is a nickname for a SWAT team? Sort of an in-your-face to the police of the day as though the writer is assuring us that Todd will not get caught? At least not by the police? Or that Todd is going to be the one wrecking vengeance with some authority and justice?

    And – to be honest – (hope you don't take personal offense though you didn't make it) I've had a meat pie in England and maybe I had a poorly made one but it was the ONLY thing I didn't like there. Everything else – from the Heavenly light-as-air breading on the fish in the fish and chips shop to the uniquely English lemonade/beer – Shandy – in the pubs and the scones in the tea shop were absolutely delightful!!  But….not so much the poor little meat pie.

     

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