“He served a dark and a vengeful god” did Sweeney Todd. This spring, Guilford High School (GHS) Theatre Arts is diving deep into the bowls of London to bring the story of a vengeful barber to life on the GHS stage.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the story of a man who returns to London after a period of exile to take revenge on those who wronged him. In his plot, he teams up with a local shopkeeper, Mrs. Lovett, who is in need of meat for her pies. The solution for revenge and the meat shortage? Murder and cannibalism.
The play won a Tony award and has been produced by multiple companies over the years and adapted for the screen by Tim Burton in 2007. For those who have seen the film, the story is bloody and violent, but on the GHS stage, there will not be a drop of blood, rather an exploration of revenge and humanity.
Director Cara Mulqueen-Teasdale said the theater group is using the student version of Sweeney Todd, trying to cut back on the violence and focus on the message of the play.
“It is really the story of pathos,” she said. “There is not a drop of blood in this production and I don’t think there needs to be. [Sweeney Todd] has this line where he says ‘the cruelty of man is as wondrous as Peru’ and I think the play explores ways that we are careless with one another and ways that we can be just cruel and mean spirited.”
Between the actors, the crew, and the orchestra, close to 150 students are involved in the production. Students have been working for several months and while Mulqueen-Teasdale said this particular production is complex, the students are rising to the occasion.
“Every year we all get together and take a look at the students that we have and the students that are coming up and we try to chose something that we think we can handle with the talent that we have,” she said. “The music has been an incredible challenge…[The students] are up to it and they are fantastic, but it is hard.”
Choosing a piece of theater that is well known can also be a challenge, but Mulqueen-Teasdale said this production fits perfectly with the new International Baccalaureate (IB) program coming to the high school.
“We are starting this IB program at the high school so one of the requirements of the theater course is the students have to do research in depth on genres of theater and theater theorists,” she said. “This piece really lends itself well to that, because it is one of the few modern melodramas.”
Like all GHS theater productions, the students are doing the bulk of the work—including set design, costumes, and sound—with one exception this year. Two costumes from the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd have been donated to the show through connections of Mulqueen-Teasdale. A lucky student actor gets the chance to wear two dresses originally designed for and worn by Angela Lansbury.
“I love having the students doing everything,” she said. “They constructed everything, they are painting everything, they do everything. I think that the end result is they have more agency with what they are doing and more investment with what happens.”
Student investment in the production is bringing new faces to the stage, according to Mulqueen-Teasdale, who said more new students tried out for the production this year.
“We have had a really nice influx of new kids…This year for example we have a nice strong freshman class,” she said. “We are starting to attract different kids based on the shows, so what I have been trying to do is pick shows that appeal to lots of different talent types and it has been working out well.”
One new face is GHS senior Edmund Rogers, who his taking on the role of Sweeney Todd. Rogers said this is his first time singing, but it has been a fun challenge.
“All of the songs are so amazing and working with all of the other singers is something I have never done before,” he said. “It is a really good learning experience because I want to go into music education.”
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is on at the GHS Theater March 24, 25, 26 and March 30, 31, and April 1. Tickets ($15 to $18) can be purchased in advance on the Guilford High School Theatre Arts website ghsta.weebly.com.