Actor's Charitable Theatre tackles macabre musical 'Sweeney Todd'
The last time the Actor's Charitable Theatre visited Sweeney Todd's tonsorial parlor on Fleet Street, a portion of proceeds were targeted for a different tragedy. The June 2011 show made as its charity that summer the city of Tuscaloosa's tornado relief efforts.
Things have changed for the 2023 version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street": The ACT now has a permanent home with room for shop work, storage, rehearsals, performances and more. The ACT Theatre is in the old Holt High School at 3801 Alabama Ave. NE.
And of course there's a new cast, director and designers, although some of the ACT stalwarts remain both on stage and behind the scenes.
“Audiences will feel like they are in the room with a true madman," said Joey Lay, one of the ACT's co-founders, who is directing this production. "Even though it’s dark, I believe it is a story about how love and innocence can truly conquer hate."
Borrowing from contemporary "Sweeney Todd" productions, the ACT's set will appear to be a butcher's factory. Among the cast are Greg VanderWal as Sweeney; Danielle Molina as Mrs. Lovett; Darian Polke as Anthony; Grace Davis as Johanna; Brady Taylor as Tobias; Jeff Wilson as Judge Turpin; Jordan Harper as the Beggar Woman; Matt Cornelson as the Beadle; and Royce Garrison as Adolfo Pirelli.
What hasn't changed is the Grand Guignol tale, based on a 19th-century urban legend about a barber who murders customers with a straight razor, then dumps their bodies into a ground floor room below, where his partner, Mrs. Lovett, bakes the bodies into meat pies. The musical draws most directly from Christopher Bond's 1973 play, which gives Todd, aka Benjamin Barker, a backstory and "Count of Monte Cristo"-style motivation.
Evil Judge Turpin falsely accuses and sends Barker to Australia, then a penal colony, while lusting after his beautiful wife Lucy. Fighting his way back home after 15 years, much changed physically, Barker hopes to find Lucy and their daughter Johanna, an infant when he was deported. On returning, he changes his name to Sweeney Todd, the better to operate under the judge's radar. (Various reasons have been given for the name, including that Sweeney was Victorian slang for Irish barber, and Todd was intended as a take on either the Middle English Todd, meaning fox, or the Germanic Tod, meaning death.)
On hearing that Lucy took her own life after being raped by the Judge, Todd goes insane, and begins dispatching his tormentors — and anyone else foolish enough to ask for a close shave — one by one, instantly improving the quality of Mrs. Lovett's meat-pie business.
But Johanna still lives, and the young sailor, Anthony, who saved Barker's life when he found him near-drowning, has fallen in love with her from afar. Judge Turpin's keeping Johanna locked away, grooming her to be his bride. Sweeney plots to free her, using the mostly-innocent Anthony, and tries at the same time to urge the Judge under his razor.
It's been adapted as pulp fiction, plays, radio plays, a 1959 ballet, and several films, including Tim Burton's 2007 movie. Considered one of Sondheim's master works, it's been revived in London's West End, and on and off Broadway numerous times, in settings varying from traditional proscenium theaters to actual butcher shops, and with variations including a chamber-music style revival, where the instruments were all played by the actors.
Due to subject matter, it's advised that the musical's mainly for mature audiences. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Jan. 31, Feb. 2, Feb. 3, and Saturday Feb. 4; with 2 p.m. matinees Feb. 4 and Feb. 5, all in the ACT Theatre. Tickets are $22 general, $20 for seniors and students. For more see www.theact.online.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Actor's Charitable Theatre tackles macabre musical 'Sweeney Todd'