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This musical’s got a (razor’s) edge

There’s no truth to the rumour ponchos will be necessary for audience members in the first three rows taking in the JM Drama production of Sweeney Todd, says the director.

Nor, for that matter, is anyone likely to be asked to volunteer his neck to The Demon Barber: there’ll be enough blood already.

Anne-Marie Massicotte is Mrs. Lovett and Steve Robinson is the titular barber in the JM Drama production of Sweeney Todd, now in rehearsals.
Anne-Marie Massicotte is Mrs. Lovett and Steve Robinson is the titular barber in the JM Drama production of Sweeney Todd, now in rehearsals.

In the intimate confines of Kitchener’s Registry Theatre, however, there will be no escaping the musical’s gloomy environment, said Allan Hoch, who’ll direct this adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s macabre, Tony Award-winning musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The musical, which begins a five-show run Aug. 13, tells the suspenseful, razor-sharp story of barber Benjamin Barker (aka Sweeney Todd), who returns to grimy 19th-century London vowing to extract revenge for his false imprisonment with the help of immoral baker Mrs. Lovett. Their twisted strategy arranges it so that Sweeney will murder his victims in his barber chair and Mrs. Lovett will turn them into the tastiest meat pies in London.

“Lovers of musical theatre put this down as one of their favourites for a variety of reasons,” said Hoch of the story. “For one, it turned the musical form into an operetta – the music is very challenging and captivating.”

With its bloody subject matter, Dickensian setting and the music to match, this is definitely not Annie.

“This production reflects a musical that has its roots in the macabre.”

The story introduces us to Barker, a middle-class barber who has his life, his beautiful wife Lucy, and his young daughter taken away by the villainous Judge Turpin who wants Lucy for himself. Barker is arrested and exiled for a crime he did not commit.

The play begins 15 years later when the barber who now calls himself Sweeney Todd (Steve Robinson) returns to London. Moving into his old apartment over a bakery operated by Mrs. Lovett (Anne-Marie Massicotte), Sweeney Todd is consumed with thoughts of revenge. Mrs. Lovett, a baker of poor tasting pies, tells him that his wife killed herself rather than remaining with Judge Turpin and that his precious daughter is now a ward of the judge. This news further fuels Sweeney Todd’s lust for revenge; together, they hatch their plot.

Because of the complicated score that demands much of musicians and singers, Sweeney Todd is an ambitious undertaking for JM Drama, a community theatre group founded in 1983. Celebrating its 25th year, however, the organization wanted to do something extra this time around, said Hoch.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since seeing in the late 1980s,” he said of Sweeney Todd. “It’s a tough show, but I tell the [actors] that if you’ve got Sweeney Todd on your résumé, it shows you’ve got your musical chops.”
Along with the music, there are certainly more than a few comedic moments in the story. The humour, of course, is black – and Hoch is intent on “squeezing out every drop of it.”

Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 and went on to win eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. In 2007, the story was turned into a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

The JM Drama production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs Aug. 13-15 and Aug. 21-22 at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $18-$22, available at the Centre in the Square box office by calling 578-1570 or toll free 1-800-265-8977 or online at www.centre-square.com.

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