The Victorian-era thriller Sweeney Todd is set to grip audiences as it opens this spring in HSU’s Van Ellis Theatre, March 27 – April 6, 2014.
The stage production encompasses both the Department of Theatre and the School of Music from HSU’s College of Fine Arts. Ronald Dean Nolen, HSU theatre’s artistic director and assistant professor of theatre, directs the musical; Dr. Peter Isaacson, associate professor of violin and director of orchestra, serves as musical director for the production; and Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth, associate professor of voice and director of opera, serves as vocal coach. Marc Sanders serves as assistant musical director and accompanist.
The character known as Sweeney Todd was first introduced to audiences in British fiction during the 19th century. The character was resurrected in two silent films of the 1920s; a 1936 film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; a 1959 ballet; and more recently, a retelling of the Victorian story based on the novel by Hugh Wheeler, which forms the basis for the 1979 Broadway hit and the 2007 film by the same name.
The popular musical artfully entwines dark comedy with chilling horror in a story of unfair exile/imprisonment and Todd’s journey back to London. When Sweeney Todd, now exacting his revenge as a barbarous barber, meets up with Mrs. Lovett, a pie maker, the nefarious pair devise a scheme to make and sell meat pies to great success…but the recipe leaves a bit to be desired.
While a story of both redemption and understandable vengeance, Nolen said, “Certainly Sweeney Todd is a tragedy in many ways, yet laugh-out-loud funny in many others.” Nolen warned of the unexpected in this production, “The musical is the kind of grand work of art that needs to be seen for what it is. There are great lessons to be learned and much to be appreciated.”
Nolen explained that the songs truly tell the story of the title character and his lost wife and daughter. Revealing several of the crowd-pleasing numbers, “‘Not While I’m Around’ is an example of a popular hit from the show – a beautiful, tender ballad – as opposed to ‘Epiphany,’ the frenzied and brilliant song that closes Act I,” said Nolen. “Another spectacular, sophisticated piece of music is ‘Johanna,’ an exquisite ballad with a slightly manic undertone…one of my all-time favorite songs.”
Nolen said Sweeney is an epic production and a beast for anyone to tackle. However, in producing Sweeney Todd, “Students are learning how to truthfully tell the story by acting a song while in meter with an orchestra and conductor and in doing so, they learn to collaborate with both.”
The title role of Sweeney Todd is played by HSU veteran actor Jeremiah Johnson (BFA ’14), a senior from Seabrook, Texas, who has had leading roles in The Imaginary Invalid, Birds on a Wire, The Roads to Home, Red, and Hello Dolly!
The role of Mrs. Lovett is split between Ellen Eberhardt (BFA ’14), a senior from Brenham, Texas, remembered for her role in Hello Dolly!, and Krista Sharpe (BFA ’16), a sophomore from Canyon Lake, Texas, known for her roles in numerous HSU opera productions.
The remaining cast for Sweeney Todd includes Branden Loera (BFA ’15) as Anthony Hope; Lanne Campos (BM Performance ’17) as Johanna Barker; James Lockhart as Pirelli; Colby Savell (BFA’15) as Judge Turpin; Dakota Davis (BFA ’16) as Tobias Ragg; Samuel Cress (BFA ’14) as Beadle Bamford; Edna Gill (BFA ’15) and Vanessa Salazar (BFA ’16) splitting the role of Lucy Barker, a beggar woman; James Lockhart (BM ‘15) as Adolfo Pirelli; and Anna Warren (BFA ’15), Megan Dobbs, Jacob Frost, Braiden Fisher (BFA ’16), Reagan Dyer, Grant Paulsen (BFA ’16), and Courtney Mentzel (BFA ’15) as members of the ensemble. Debra Crawford (BFA ’14) is the stage manager, Jeremiah Johnson the lighting designer, and the very talented Richard Transki is the costume designer. Cody Herrera (BA ’14)is the box office and house manager.
Recommended for patrons over the age of 13, Sweeney Todd can be seen March 27-29 and April 3-5 at 7:30 p.m. as well as matinees on March 30 and April 6 at 2 p.m. in Hardin-Simmons University’s Van Ellis Theatre.
Tickets for general admission are $10; military, senior citizens, and students $7; and for HSU faculty, staff, and students $5. You may purchase tickets at www.hsutx.edu/tickets or at the door.
HSU’s last production for the spring semester is DirectFEST 2014, April 23-26 at 7:30 p.m., Van Ellis Theatre