Whether you want to see a mad barber in action or munch on a (human?) meat pie, ELOPE Musical Theatre’s upcoming production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has you covered. With Meat Street Pies food truck on site to set the scene, it’s set to be a night filled with flesh and fear.
Based on a play in 1973 that centered on a series of penny dreadfuls from the mid-1800s, Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s musical adaptation of the show not only contains an orchestra, but a more complicated cast and storyline.
After being wrongly exiled by a corrupt judge who steals his wife and daughter, Sweeney Todd is bent on revenge upon his return to London. His obsession turns to mania when he decides not only to kill the judge, but all of his customers—the bodies filling the pies of equally deranged baker, Mrs. Lovett.
Instead of his previously melodramatic trope of a character, Todd’s tortured psyche comes alive in songs such as “Epiphany” and “Johanna.” According to ELOPE’s director Jon Shields, these added layers of character, irony and humour are key to this music-heavy version of the iconic tale.
“I always find that the best plays are the ones where Act II is significantly harder to direct than Act I,” Shields says. “That’s where your characters have grown, have changed ideas and lived—they might start contradicting themselves.”
No matter how many times Todd changes his objective, his ultimate goal is bloodthirsty vengeance. And while the results are gruesome, his mindless approach to murder can act as warning of how we casually misuse people in our daily lives.
“[The play] really serves as a metaphor for how we treat other human beings,” Shields explains. “I mean, we kill other people all the time. We kill them with our words and our actions and we suppress other people—at least Sweeney Todd isn’t being a hypocrite and he does it quite literally with his razor.”
Any good tragedy includes comedy, and Sondheim is known for his comic relief. Some of the most appalling scenes end with humour, and irony is abundant. So much, in fact, that the tragic might arise from the comedic, rather than vice versa.
“The comedy in Sweeney Todd is that the audience gets tricked into almost cheering for Todd to succeed in getting his revenge and in making the pies—they even pretend to eat these pies at intermission—and the tragedy arises that his obsession is his ultimate downfall,” says Shields.
With Todd’s terrible tale as caution, Shields hopes the audience finds the courage to forgive and treat people well before it’s too late.
“What they’re serving I don’t think are literally human beings,” laughs Shields. “But, hey, you never know.”
As a start, you might make sure the person next to you hasn’t disappeared during intermission. What did you say is in those pies?
Thurs., May 4 to Sat., May 13
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
ATB Financial Arts Barn, Westbury Theatre, $30