The making of Vaudeville’s ‘Sweeney Todd’
Ask anyone familiar with Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” what it’s all about and they will tell you it’s a musical about murder. However, some, including our director John Goss and even Sondheim himself, would argue the tale centers more around revenge and loss. Starting from our first rehearsal, Goss expressed this in his long-awaited vision for the production.
From very the beginning, John’s love for this musical was evident. He told us the morning of our first full cast read-through that when planning the interior design of the Glenwood Vaudeville’s iconic stage he had a trap door designed into it so he could someday put on this show. From that moment on I was eager to work with him, and this immense musical.
After previously performing with Bob Moore as Tevye in Defiance Community Theater’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” I knew his portrayal of the Demon Barber would be bone chilling and heartfelt. He is perfectly matched with Nina Gabianelli who plays Mrs. Lovett. The leading lady is more often than not portrayed as a vacant, sporadic or crazed woman. Though these traits really aren’t far off, Lovett has so much more depth, cunningness, and unconditional love in her heart. I am still blown away at how Nina is able to capture this while still effortlessly executing Lovett’s meticulously timed comedic moments.
And of course even a musical about people being murdered and baked into pies wouldn’t be the same without a pair of young star-crossed lovers. We were fortunate enough to have Battle Mountain High School’s choral director, Alex Trosper, revisit her favorite role of Johanna. Michael Shoepe, playing Antony the young sailor, was a voice I had never heard before the first rehearsal, but instantly wanted to hear more of. We’re now about to open, and I still close my eyes to listen as her operatically trained voice danced through vocal trills over his smooth, strong tenor sound.
A character that seems to creep in and out of the shadows of Fleet Street is the Beggar Woman. She is one of my absolute favorite characters in musical theater, surprisingly enough, because of her complexity. Though the majority of the show she’s dashing in and out of scenes, begging and harassing other characters on stage, it’s not until the very end that the audience learns her true role in the story. Each of her scenes show hints at her true self, little things the character knows but the audience does not. Sheri Brinker has an immaculate grasp on the complexity of the character, knowing the reason behind her words in every scene, but never giving it away.
This production has been a huge undertaking for such a small venue, but the way John has been able to make it work with integrative solutions that both accommodate the space while also furthering the story has been a pleasure watch. Ideas like keeping the choral cast down to only a select five (myself and John included) and using us as much as possible has been a challenge that has definitely paid off and been a privilege. John also intricately worked his space to his advantage by sticking with a minimalistic set, with the details where they count, and by building a second lower stage that also creates room for a full band. This show offers a truly unique experience for the audience, as they become immersed in the story with us.
I have found so much delight watching the way John’s complex execution of the show so much reflects that of Sondheim and his writing. In the same way Sondheim uses the music he composes to further the songs as well as the story, John emulates the same in using the tiny space to our advantage while still instilling motivation through his direction.
I hope you will join us for the Vaudeville Revue’s first ever Broadway production. If you are looking for a show that will impress and shock you this Halloween season, look no further than “Sweeney Todd.”
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