Theater Preview: Sweeney Todd at VCU Theater
The demon barber of Fleet Street is coming to VCU next weekend, and bringing with him a cast and crew with a handful of technical spooks. VCU’s Theatre Department is putting on the most recent adaptation of the play, whose origins go back to the 1840’s.
Sweeney Todd, a barber who cuts peoples’ throats and puts them into meat pies with the help of his assistant, Mrs. Lovett, was originally set in the form of a British “penny dreadful”; or weekly horror story pamphlets that released stories in parts, primarily aimed at young adults.
VCU’s production of Sweeney Todd includes a cast of all student characters, and is led by Theater Director Barry Bell. Bell says that he jumped at the chance to direct Sweeney Todd when the chairman of his departments suggested it. “He brought it to me because I get that kind of stuff” he chuckles. “I get things like Waiting ‘til Dark and Dracula. I get the scary stuff and the rock n’ roll musicals,” he adds.
Relating his love for Sweeney Todd back to his theatre days in the 70’s, Bell recounts a time when a friend snuck him into a pre-performance rehearsal of the original musical production. He says that this first musical production is the story most commonly associated with Sweeney Todd today, and is the same story used in the 2007 Tim Burton film adaptation.
Bell explains that there are difficulties in reproducing such a technical and horrendous piece of work. “It’s a melodrama, so the challenge is playing it melodramatically without making it silly, or too far over the top,” Bell says, explaining that word melodrama literally means theater with music. “We have some terrific sound designers who have basically created a score for most of the show,” Bell says, adding that the score is one of his favorite parts of the production.
The story of Sweeney Todd is a bloody and technical one, which calls for quality stage production. “We’ve got the chair that Sweeney creates, the razors that squirt blood all over the place, so we’ve got a lot of technical things. So you know it’s a very challenging piece,” says Bell
Bell says that with such an excellent cast and crew, the Sweeney Todd production is his favorite in his ten years spent at VCU say that “this has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had here as a director.”
When asked if the story of Sweeney Todd resonates with our current cultural climate, Bell says that one might be reading too much into the story. He says that the theme of the misuse of power is one that may have some relevance to today, but that “basically it’s just a good old fashioned horror story, to entertain, to thrill you, to make you jump, and then to make you leave the theater going ‘wow, what a ride’”
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street will be opening at VCU on April 6th, and running through the end of the month. This will surely be a show not to miss.
Find out more about VCU theater and Sweeney Todd here
It is a really bizarre to experience a play adapted from a musical. Musicals have a campy feel to them, and the plots they revolve around are usually a little daft. The story and emotional content of the piece–humor, pathos, love, anger–are communicated through the words, music, movement, and the technical aspects of the entertainment. [...]April 16, 2013
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