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Draper Journal

‘Sweeney Todd’ serves up a tale of vengeance with a side of dark humor at Draper Historic Theatre

Sep 30, 2019 11:45AM ● By Katherine Weinstein

Draper Historic Theater presents Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Pictured from left to right: Jacob Ericksen, Kate Lyn Child, Parker Rawlins, Anne Considine-Olsen and Josh Bone. (Photo courtesy Jen Spongberg/Draper Historic Theatre)

By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]

"The history of the world, my sweet, is who gets eaten and who gets to eat," sings the London barber Sweeney Todd to his partner in crime in Stephen Sondheim's musical thriller, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." 

The quote sums up a main theme of the musical. “The show explores the social ramifications of what happens when people are put in desperate situations,” said Director Ashley Ramsey. “Sweeney Todd” will be presented Oct. 4–28 at Draper Historic Theatre. 

When a villainous judge destroys Sweeney Todd's family, the barber embarks on a bloody spree of vengeance. His neighbor, Mrs. Lovett, a baker of meat pies, has a nefarious plan for what to do with the bodies, especially as meat is hard to come by. "Times is hard," she sings. 

In the Draper Historic Theatre production, Ramsey has moved the story from the Victorian era to London during the "Great Slump" of the 1930s. "It was a time of drastic unemployment and a lot of people suffered terribly," Ramsey said. “We are stripping away the Victorian trappings and getting down to the basic themes of greed and revenge, exploring what makes us tick as humans.”

“It’s about more than the meat pies,” said Assistant Director Jen Spongberg. “It’s important to tell the stories of the characters. People are working but can’t afford to make ends meet. The characters deserve to have their stories told.”

Sondheim set out to write a horror musical, which was first staged on Broadway in 1979 with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in the lead roles. The actual story of Sweeney Todd is fictional and comes from a Victorian era “penny dreadful" — a cheap, sensational serial akin to a comic book. 

“This show explores the worst, darkest corners of human character," said Anne Considine-Olsen, who plays Mrs. Lovett in the Draper Historic Theatre production. However, the story is told through soaring, beautiful melodies and is laced through with wicked humor. 

Considine-Olsen is relishing the role of the fiendishly daffy Mrs. Lovett. "She is about as funny a villain as you'll find," she said. "Mrs. Lovett is hilarious and horrifying — which makes for a great night at the theater!"

In the role of Sweeney Todd, Parker Rawlins sees the character as complex. "Sweeney is not a monster. In spite of the darkness, there are moments when he displays empathy. Everybody has the potential of light and dark within them," Rawlins said. “There’s a line in the finale that says ‘Perhaps today you gave a nod to Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.’ He could be anyone.” 

Josh Bone is grappling with his role as the evil Judge Turpin. “He is so drastically different from who I am,” Bone said. “But part of why I act is that it lets me step into other characters and personalities. It’s one of the main reasons I love theater and acting.”

In the show, Sweeney Todd has a beautiful daughter named Johanna who hardly knew her real father and is living as Judge Turpin’s ward. Kate Lyn Child, who plays Johanna, noted that the songs help to tell the character’s stories. “The song ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ conveys what Johanna wants — she knows deep down that something is wrong,” Child said. “The music is amazing.”

Jacob Ericksen, who plays Anthony, a young sailor who falls in love with Johanna, agreed. “I like how the music itself conveys more than words about what is going on. It’s storytelling through music, one of the best things about the show,” he said. 

The team behind this production is using the intimate space of Draper Historic Theatre to make it an immersive show. “We want audiences to go home asking themselves, ‘What would I do in this situation?’” Ramsey said. The cast will be getting in the space of the audience. Ramsey suggests that audience members arrive a little early “for fun little treats and surprises.” 

Rawlins invites Draper Journal readers to take a chance and see the show. “Take the plunge and have a new experience; you could find something that speaks to you.”

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” will be presented at Draper Historic Theatre October 4 through 28. For performance times and tickets, visit www.drapertheatre.org or call 801-572-4144. Draper Historic Theatre is located at 12366 South 900 East in Draper. 

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