By Chris Stanford
Caution: You might want to grow your hair long after seeing this new musical stage production.
In a departure from their other offerings this season, the Kelowna Actor’s Studio is delving into darker deeds with their new production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opening this Thursday.
Starring Neville Bowman as Sweeney Todd and Kelly Whelan as Mrs. Nellie Lovett, the musical is set in dark Victorian London in the 19th century and then plot deals with the legendary barber, who gets his revenge on society by eliminating the individuals he feels have made it the foreboding place it is.
But despite what could have been a gloomy and overbearing tone, director Randy Leslie of the actor’s studio has managed to provide some lighter moments as well to keep it in balance.
“It’s as little bit of a departure… this one mixes it up,” he said. “The show is actually quite funny as well, it’s very much a black comedy.”
Todd, a fictional character who first appeared in literature in the serial called String of Pearls way back in 1846, descends into his world of revenge after being wrongfully imprisoned and separated from his wife.
Suffice to say that once he embarks on his murderous string, Mrs. Lovett’s meat pie suddenly become a lot more tasty, but that is only one of the many twists in the plot.
Leslie, who has directed Sweeney Todd once before in Toronto, said that he relished the challenges offered up by the production, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
“It’s actually one of my favourite shows,” said Leslie. “I have a strong association with for about 15 or 20 years.” While Roslyn Frantz assumed the role of musical director, Bowman, a jazz musician in addition to his acting capabilities, handled the orchestrations.
Bowman, who has previously appeared in productions like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and The Fantasticks, fits perfectly in the role of the brooding, murderous barber. “I think Kelly (Whelan) and Neville are perfect foils for each other,” said Leslie. “They’re really opposite in the spectrum. Mrs. Lovett is big and brassy and fun and then Neville (Sweeney Todd) is much more the brooding type.
“I think they play beautifully together.”
As for the further challenge of staging Sweeney Todd, and producing the more graphic scenes, which incidentally come with a warning to audiences about the adult themes and content, Leslie said he took a different approach than others have in past.
“It’s a little more symbolic,” he said. “The movie was a bloodbath, I actually thought it was a bit much,” he added, referring to the 2007 release starring Johnny Depp as Todd.
“All the blood is done with specialty lighting, ” he noted. I think we’ll make people a little more comfortable but still get the point across.
“But I mean I think it’s more or less about the characters and the story and the emotion.”
Sweeney Todd also features the biggest set the Studio has ever assembled, complete with elevated walkways and a central box that seamlessly rotates with set changes, and with the clever lighting manages to convey the overall Victorian theme of the production and it’s undercurrent of man against the dawning age of machinery.
But director and producer Leslie points out in his director’s notes that there is a lot to the play and it’s characters and there is plenty of room for interpretation.
“(*It’s) still very much a melodrama style, the questions posed by the piece are in fact much more complicated than the traditional concept of good versus evil,” he says.
- What: The Actors Studio production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
- Where: The Kelowna Actor’s Studio, 1379 Ellis St.
- When: April 1 to 25. 8 p.m. evenings with Sunday matinees at 1 p.m.
- Tickets: $32 to $69. Available at KelownaActorsStudio.com or by calling the box office at 250-862-2867
- For more information: KelownaActorsStudio.com