Sixty-four actors and singers, 30 “pit” musicians, about 30 crew members and almost as many parent volunteers: All the moving parts need to come together in perfect synch when Sweeney Todd opens on the Newtown High School stage Thursday night.
With a complex musical score by Stephen Sondheim and intricate choreography around a multi-level set, the bar has been set high. But students are up to the challenge, said director Janie Matson before Monday’s rehearsal.
“I chose Sweeney Todd because the score is so challenging and the students are ready for it,” she said. “It’s one of the most critically acclaimed shows in American musical theatre. The music is incredible. The set and how the actors move on it is amazing.”
This was clear during Monday’s run-through as student actors, Matson and the orchestra led by Kurt Eckhardt fine-tuned entrances and timing for the show, which is mostly sung.
This operatic style, along with the production’s dramatic lighting, seems about right for a plot that involves “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” killing his customers, and his friend downstairs baking the remains into her meat pies.
“I love this show because it has a dark story, but the way it’s delivered is lighthearted and fun,” said Alexandra Aug, a senior who plays the female lead, Mrs. Lovett. “He’s getting revenge for the judge of the town stealing his wife and daughter, and sending him away.”
But this is not the original 1979 Broadway production; it’s the toned-down version for schools.
“Stephen Sondheim worked with Music Theatre International to take out anything that was inappropriate, and designed it for school-age kids to do,” Matson said. “The story stays the same but there are some lyric changes. There is no blood, there is nothing gory in the show.”
The deaths are implied through light effects, she said. But, she added, parents of younger children may want to consider this in the category with PG-13 movies, and decide based on their child’s tolerance for loud noises and potentially scary effects.
For her students, though, she notes, “This is high school. I have a lot of students who are going to be performance majors, and it is incumbent on me to be sure they have an experience with the lighthearted, silly stuff but also with angst, anger and those themes. It’s very important for me to make sure they are going to college prepared to portray a range of emotions, but also in serving the community, offering something you can bring the family to see.”
To that end, the high school plans a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in its smaller Black Box theater the last weekend in April.
Senior Ben Stoller, who plays Sweeney Todd, aka Benjamin Barker, said the show has taken considerable effort, both for the ensemble and for him personally.
“It definitely took a while to get into it because I don’t see myself as a serial killer,” he said. “The music is very challenging for both the pit orchestra and the performers. We had to get all that down, and then apply it while moving onstage.”
Stage manager Sean Watkins, a junior, has responsibility for coordinating all aspects of the show with the cast, crew and construction head Nick Shannon, doing a better job than many professionals, said Matson.
Sweeney Todd performances at Newtown High School are: Thursday, March 15, at 7, Friday, March 16, at 7, Saturday, March 17, at 7, and Sunday, March 18, at 2. The dress rehearsal Wednesday at 6 is open free to senior citizens. Ticket are available by calling 203-364-4534 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices are: $16 for reserved seats, $14 for general seating, and $12 for students and senior citizens.
Sweeney Todd/Benjamin Barker – Ben Stoller
Mrs. Nellie Lovett – Alexandra Aug
Johanna Barker – Kayla O’Leary
Anthony Hope – Donny Morrissey
Judge Turpin – Ishaar Gupta
Tobias Ragg – Taylor Varga
Beadle Bamford – Nick Madden
Adolfo Pirelli/Daniel O’Higgins – Luke Shearin
Beggar Woman/Lucy Barker – Maddie Dorso
Mr. Fogg – Josh Goldman
Alexander Lee Taylor
VIOLINS – Erin Bell, Rebecca Farin, Kai Hedin, Leah Pinckney, Jackie Winkler, Alex DaPra, Sarah Roman
VIOLAS – Anna Pinckney, Nicole DeFelice, Sarah Hasselberger, Keith Hedin
CELLOS – Marina Lleonart, Brenna Whitton, Stephen Rahr, Betsy Wellington
FLUTES – Danielle Capozziello, Sonya Stanczyk
OBOE/ENGLISH HORN – Katherine Stawiasz
CLARINETS – Jonah McKeown, Brett Linley
BASSOON – Melissa Brown
FRENCH HORN – Ashley Malia, Barbara Reineke
TRUMPET – Sean Sonntag, Brandon Hart, Jonathan Walton
TROMBONE – Andrew Jensen, Liam Reynolds
BASS – Dan Spillane
KEYBOARDS – Alex Lampel, Tom Morris
PERCUSSION – Corey Hilton, Nikita Srivastava
NOTE: This article has been updated to include the names of the members of the orchestra.