Broadway veterans David St. Louis and Annie Golden will star as the title character, the infamous barber-turned-serial killer Sweeney Todd, and his eager accomplice and partner-in-crime Mrs. Lovett, maker of “the worst pies in London,” in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s gala March 30-April 23 presentation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This award-winning 1979 Broadway and 1980 West End musical thriller will preview March 30-April 1, officially open on April 2, and run April 3, 5-10, 12-17, and 21-23 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.
David St. Louis made his Broadway debut in 1999 in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and subsequently performed in the 2000 Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar and the 2014 Broadway revival of Side Show. Annie Golden, who plays Norma Romano in Netflix’s original series Orange Is the New Black, made her Broadway debut in the 1977 revival of Hair; and she subsequently performed in the 1985 Broadway debut Leader of the Pack in 1985, the 1988 Broadway revival of Ah, Wilderness!, the 1998 Broadway revival of On the Town, the 2000 Broadway debut of The Full Monty, the 2007 Broadway debut of Xanadu, and the 2014 Broadway debut of Violet.
Sweeney Todd features magnificent music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a brilliant book by Hugh Wheeler, based on Christopher Bond’s 1973 play about the terrible revenge that Todd wreaks on a corrupt English judge who was smitten with Todd’s wife, Lucy, and railroaded him into a 15-year prison term, then banished him from London to serve his sentence in Australia. Sweeney Todd made its Broadway debut on March 1, 1979 at the Uris Theatre, where it played 557 performances before closing on June 29, 1980. The musical’s original Broadway production won eight 1979 Tony Awards®, including the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical (Harold Prince), plus the 1979 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical.
The initial West End presentation of Sweeney Todd debuted on July 2, 1980 in the London’s Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, where it played through Nov. 14, 1980. That production won the 1980 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical.
“I first learned about Sweeney Todd when my high school did a production of it when I was in the 10th grade,” recalls Brooklyn, NY-based PlayMakers Rep guest director Jen Wineman. “I was in the ensemble, and I loved every minute of it.
“I’d never heard of the musical before we put it on, and it was a very important experience for me,” she adds. “Until that point, I’d always thought musicals were only ever about happy, shiny people singing happy, shiny songs. Somehow, this dark, deeply disturbing, yet hilarious bloodbath of a show made me feel like my angsty teenage self had a place in the theater.”
Wineman says, “I mostly direct new musicals, and I have a very short list of classic ones that I am dying to stage. Sweeney Todd has been on my list forever, because it’s been haunting me since I was in that high-school production.
“First and foremost,” she explains, “I love the score. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Sondheim has created a perfect show. Not only are the songs a master class in composition; but even with all of his complex melodies, dissonant harmonies, intricate rhythms, [and] complicated rhymes, he is able to draw the heart of the characters out in each song they sing. And while [Sweeney Todd] is far from commercial in tone, these songs stick in your head and never leave. I myself have had the entire score committed to memory for over 20 years.”
The co-founder and former co-artistic director of New York City’s Studio 42, which proudly calls itself “NYC’s producer of ‘unproducible’ plays,” Jen Wineman says, “Directing this show has always felt like an inevitability for me, and it took me a while to put my finger on exactly why I am so drawn to the story. It’s actually quite simple. Sweeney Todd is ultimately a musical about love. No matter how gruesome the subject matter — or maybe because of it — people relate to this story. My guess is that it’s because every character is driven by love — the simplest yet most complicated of our feelings.
“All of the characters go to extremes, and often do horrible things, but always in the name of love,” she claims. “While most of us wouldn’t commit the barbarous acts peppering this story, we can certainly understand the emotions that drive the characters to commit them.”
Wineman notes, “Fifteen years before our play begins, the Honorable Judge Turpin (Ray Dooley) falls in love with Lucy (Julie Fishell), a young woman who is already married to London barber Sweeney Todd (David St. Louis). Together, Sweeney and Lucy have a baby named Johanna (Mya Ison). In order to have Lucy all to himself, Turpin sends Sweeney to prison for life in Australia on a trumped-up charge.
“When he can’t convince Lucy to return his affection, Turpin rapes her with the assistance of his toady, Beadle Bamford (Blake Segal). Lucy goes mad and attempts suicide by drinking arsenic, while Turpin raises baby Johanna as his ward,” says Wineman.
“Fast forward to the day our story begins,” she says, “and Sweeney, having escaped from prison, returns to London with a young sailor named Anthony (Jade Arnold), who found Sweeney lost at sea. Sweeney goes to his old barbershop and finds Mrs. Lovett (Annie Golden), his former landlady who owns the pie shop downstairs.
“Lovett leads Sweeney to believe that Lucy is dead, and tells him that Turpin has adopted Johanna,” explains Wineman. “Mrs. Lovett has always held a candle for Sweeney, and she is hoping this will be her chance to finally win his affection.
“Sweeney vows to seek vengeance against the Judge and his Beadle for how they destroyed his life. When Sweeney kills an adversary who recognizes him from the old days, Mrs. Lovett makes a suggestion of what to do with the body that would also help her struggling meat pie business … and the story unfolds from there,” says Wineman.
Two other cast members not named above are Jeffrey Blair Cornell, who plays Jonas Fogg, and Max Bitar, who portrays Tobias Ragg. PlayMakers Rep’s Ensemble includes (in alphabetical order): Carlos Alcala, Carey Cox, Benjamin Curns, Annie Keller, Liz Kent, Schuyler Scott Mastain, Adam Poole, Jessica Sorgi, Caroline Strange, and Rachael Worthington.
“The hardest part of staging this show is achieving the right tonal balance between the bloody violence, the hilarious comedy, and the sweet love scenes,” claims Jen Wineman, who has directed Off-Broadway and at New York’s Ars Nova and the New York Musical Theatre Festival, as well as touring productions and regional theaters nationwide. She adds, “Sweeney Todd comes from the tradition of melodrama, and I knew that only by embracing archetype and honoring the scale of the story would we be able to be successful with our production.
“The idea that the audience could be laughing one moment and terrified the next is actually quite difficult to pull off in the theater,” Wineman says.
In addition to director Jen Wineman, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Sweeney Todd includes PRC producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, associate director Christian Fleming, choreographer Tito Hernandez, music director Mark Hartman, associate music director Alex Thompson, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Jan Chambers, lighting designer Charlie Morrison, costume designer Bill Brewer, sound designer Maria Württele, dramaturg Gregory Kable, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Craig Turner, fight captain Jeffrey Blair Cornell, dance captain Jessica Sorgi, stage manager Hannah-Jean Farris, and assistant stage manager Charles K. Bayang.
Music director Mark Hartman (keyboard 1), associate music director Alex Thompson (keyboard 2), music coordinator Wayne Leechford (clarinet), Tasi Matthews (violin), Ariana Dewar (cello), Mike Mole (trumpet), and Kathy Wood (French horn) will put a fine polish on the musical gems in Stephen Sondheim’s score.
Jen Wineman says, “The set is inspired by the machinery of the Industrial Revolution: gears, cogs, metal work. I looked at many images of 19th Century meat grinders; and I kept thinking about consumption, about the price of satiating the voracious hunger of the masses. That made me think about modern-day America, and how we want what we want when we want it, with little regard for the impact our needs may have on others, or on the Earth itself.
“I wanted our set for Sweeney Todd to evoke a sense of relentlessness, of the cyclical nature of human condition: we’ve been chewing each other up and spitting each other out for centuries, and we will continue to do so forever,” Wineman says.
For costumes, Jen Wineman says, “We are using 19th Century silhouettes, but with added whimsy: colors and patterns that are a bit anachronistic. We are playing with the attenuation of body types, tipping things into the more extreme. The events of the story and the emotions of the characters are heightened, and I was excited for our costumes to reflect that.”
Jen Wineman says the show’s lighting scheme will recreate “That fog London is so famous for, glowing grates in the streets, discoloration,” and include “Lots of sky. Lots of angles, shadows, and places to hide….
“While this show is bloody and gory and has some pretty dark subject matter, it truly is one of the great musicals of all time,” says Wineman. “Everyone should see it! Just maybe, eat a vegetarian dinner before coming to this one.”
SECOND OPINION: March 30th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/sweeney-todd-the-demon-barber-of-fleet-street/Event?oid=4803768; March 23rd Chapel Hill, NC Chapelboro.com/WCHL interview with director Jen Wineman, conducted by Aaron Keck: http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/attend-the-tale-of-sweeney-todd; March 17th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/a-bloody-musical-with-playmakers-sweeney-todd/article_c01f76ce-ebbc-11e5-96f7-eb524bb7b6a1.html (Note: You must subscribe to read this article); and March 11th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Maria Mullis: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2016/03/orange-is-the-new-black-acress-to-appear-in-playmakers-sweeney-todd.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, starring David St. Louis as Sweeney Todd and Annie Golden as Mrs. Lovett, at 7:30 p.m. March 30-April 1 Previews, 7:30 p.m. April 2 Opening Night, 2 p.m. April 3, 7:30 p.m. April 5-8, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 9, 2 p.m. April 10, 7:30 p.m. April 12-16, 2 p.m. April 17, and 7:30 p.m. April 21-23 in the Paul Green Theatre, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27599, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be an opening-night gala performance, followed by refreshments, on Saturday, April 2nd.
NOTE 4: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 6th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 10th, performances.
NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 9th (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).
NOTE 6: UNC’s Program in the Humanities and Human Values will host a program entitled Table Talk: Creative Choices from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, featuring new PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, dramaturg Gregory Kable, and scenic designer Jan Chambers, at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 11th, at the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill. Tickets are $80, which includes a three-course dinner. For details, call 919-962-1544 or click http://humanities.unc.edu/programs/special-event/tabletalk2016/.
NOTE 7: On Friday, April 15th, the UNC General Alumni Association will host An Evening at PlayMakers, which includes a preshow reception with PRC’s artistic staff, starting at 6 p.m., followed by the 7:30 p.m. performance of Sweeney Todd. The cost per person is $60 ($40 for GAA members), which includes the theater ticket. To register online, click https://alumni.unc.edu/events/an-evening-at-playmakers-sweeney-todd/.
NOTE 8: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussion after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17th, performances.
Sweeney Todd (character): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd (Wikipedia).
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1973 play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/1746/sweeney-todd-the-demon-barber-of-fleet-street (Samuel French, Inc.).
Christopher Bond (book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Bond (Wikipedia).
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979 Broadway and 1980 West End musical): http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000075 (Music Theatre International), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=8451 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd:_The_Demon_Barber_of_Fleet_Street (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.mtishowspace.com/action/file/download?file_guid=193716 (Music Theatre International).
Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics): http://www.sondheim.org/ (Stephen Sondheim Society), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/12430 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0814227/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sondheim (Wikipedia).
Hugh Wheeler (book): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/6402 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0923839/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Wheeler (Wikipedia).
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007 film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0408236/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd:_The_Demon_Barber_of_Fleet_Street_%282007_film%29 (Wikipedia).
Jen Wineman (Brooklyn, NY-based PRC guest director): http://jenwineman.com/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/jen-wineman/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), and http://lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/42504 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Tito Hernandez (Raleigh, NC-based choreographer and Dance Department Head at the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/tito-hernandez/ (PlayMakers Rep bio) and http://nctheatre.com/page/about-conservatory (NCT bio).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing email@example.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)