A Little ‘Sweeney Todd’ for Your Halloween
I’m always a little squeamish at scary movies and plays, so I approached the dress rehearsal of the musical Sweeney Todd the other night with some wariness.
You’re probably familiar with the story of Benjamin Barker, who gets sent off to a penal colony on trumped-up charges, and come back 15 years later with a rather large chip on his shoulder. He changes his name to Sweeney Todd, opens up a barber shop upstairs from Mrs. Lovett’s meat-pie shop, and … well, let’s just say that some of his clients end up in some of the pies.
The theatre folks asked me if I’d take photos at the dress rehearsal this past Monday night, and that’s an assignment I just love. But after reading through the entire detailed synopsis on Wikipedia right before heading to the rehearsal, I wondered, Will I have nightmares tonight?
It turns out I had nothing to worry about. Yes, Sweeney Todd is definitely dark, and yes, there is blood. (Or stage blood, presumably.) But the Penn State production is just so terrifically well done that I got completely caught up in the story and thoroughly enjoyed it, in all its intensity.
Plus, to my surprise, there are plenty of funny moments. Emma Stratton, the junior musical theatre major who plays Mrs. Lovett, has some hilarious facial expressions, and the song she and Sweeney sing as they hatch their meat-pie plot—a song called “A Little Priest”—is a hoot.
What’s especially cool about the Penn State production is that it’s directed by Susan Schulman, who directed the show on Broadway in 1989 and earned a Tony nomination for her efforts. Schulman is now on the faculty in Penn State’s School of Theatre. And the cast is an impressive mix of musical theatre students along with faculty member Ted Christopher (he plays the role of the judge who sentenced Benjamin Barker). Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton, a sophomore in the musical theatre program, is powerful as Sweeney, showing us a transformation from lost love to near-demonic possession to heartbreak again.
Sweeney Todd opens tonight and runs through Nov. 2, with a matinee Oct. 20. I can’t imagine a better show for the Halloween season.
Tina Hay, editor