Raise your razor for Sweeney Todd
The infamous Sweeney Todd is currently slitting throats in Carnegie Mellon’s Philip Chosky Theater. The School of Drama’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street played its first performance last Thursday to a full house.
This masterpiece features music by composer Stephen Sondheim and a libretto by Hugh Wheeler. The story centers on Sweeney Todd (played by senior drama major Denver Milord), a once-prominent barber driven mad after being imprisoned for 15 years on false charges. At the opening of the show, Todd returns home with the hope of being reunited with his family. However, he soon learns that his wife poisoned herself after she was raped by the corrupt Judge Turpin (played by senior drama major Abdiel Vivancos). Todd swears revenge on the judge. The story is a dark one, filled with passion, mystery, and despair.
Over the years, there have been several versions of the show. It premiered on Broadway in 1979 and has won eight Tony Awards. Since then, there have been several revivals and productions, including the recent Tim Burton film adaptation starring Johnny Depp.
On Thursday, an enthusiastic audience came out to experience the musical thriller. This performance was a preview of the show — the first performance for a full audience.
As the show began, the curtain rose, revealing a captivating set. Three large drapes formed walls around the stage. A narrow staircase and a table with chairs served as the major parts of the set. Several dimly lit chandeliers seemed to float above the stage. As the ensemble started singing “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” Todd made his grand entrance. The jaw-dropping opening number set the tone for the rest of the show.
The staging of the show is a work of art in itself. The School of Drama brought in a guest director, Joe Calarco, for this production. Working with a guest director allowed cast members to have a production experience similar to what they will face when they enter the industry. “It was very nice to have a true professional setting,” said senior musical theatre major Lucia Roderique, who played Mrs. Lovett. “[Calarco] brought that sense because he won’t stand anything else.”
The work of scenic designer Brandon McNeel, master’s student in the School of Drama, is stunning. The show has a mysterious look that complements the score. The scenic design is accented by senior drama student Michael Berger’s lighting choices. The lighting throughout the show contributes greatly to the tone of this production.
“Everyone who is the best in their major is involved in this production ... so I think we got the best team to do one of the best musicals ever written,” Roderique said.
Visually, Sweeney Todd is a smashing success. Actors enter the stage from above and below it. Props seamlessly fly in from above the stage. The tall staircase is used in a number of innovative ways, providing the set for different scenes. This production also exhibits a steaming bake oven, a large meat grinder, gushing blood, and countless other visual excitements.
The music, under the direction of Thomas Douglas, an associate professor of drama, is the heart and soul of the story. The orchestra — consisting of School of Music students — is conducted on alternate nights by graduate music students Matthew Samson and Jan Pellant, and presents the music of Sondheim at its best.
In addition to its exceptional creative team, Sweeney Todd features a stellar cast.
Milord performs well in the title role. He is dark, yet humane. Milord’s resonant voice is a good fit for the role and he shines in numbers like “My Friends” and “Epiphany.” Always at Sweeney’s side is the jolly Mrs. Lovett. Roderique’s performance is stunning throughout the show. Her voice is perfect for the role, and her acting captures the character completely.
The evil Judge Turpin is a vital character in the musical. Vivancos’ portrayal of this vile character is very satisfying. In his song “Johanna,” Vivancos delivers one of the most intense scenes in the show. This disturbing scene can only be pulled off with superb acting, and Vivancos does not disappoint.
At the Judge’s side is the Beadle Bamford, played by senior drama major Grey Henson. Henson presents the perfect balance between the malicious antagonist and the comedic relief. The audience was charmed by his witty performance during “Parlor Songs.”
Sweeney Todd’s ensemble also plays a vital role in this production. They hold each scene together, performing various tasks throughout the show. Group numbers such as “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” are very impressive thanks to these gifted actors.
The preview performance of Sweeney Todd received a standing ovation from the packed house. This was the start of what will no doubt be a successful run. “The show is fiercely fabulous,” remarked senior vocal performance major Katie Griffin after the show.
“I thought that the lighting was wonderful,” said junior economics major Erika Tang. “They made really bold choices and I thought it worked really well.”