ACT’s Sweeney Todd Produces Sold-Out Shows

By David Perretta

Opinions Co-Editr

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012

Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012

 From February 9-12 , Alternative College Theater (ACT) presented Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Fenwick Theater.  

   The musical, originally penned by Stephen Sondheim, chronicles the atrocities of Benjamin Barker, a.k.a. Sweeney Todd in London.  The play begins with the title character arriving in England on a boat after 15 years of exile.  Sweeney Todd's crime was nonexistent; a local judge was attracted to his wife and simply removed him from the picture.  He returns to his barbershop on Fleet Street and his landlady, Mrs. Lovett, tells him that his wife committed suicide.  Filled with uncontrollable rage, Sweeney Todd seeks revenge upon not only the judge, but also any of the Englishmen he can get his hands on.  The musical turns violent as he schemes with Mrs. Lovett to dismember his victims and feed them to the general population as meat pies.

   While many students may have thought that this performance was "just another school play," it was in fact quite different from The Changeling, which was put on by Holy Cross' Theater Department last semester.  What makes Sweeney Todd so unique is that it was put on by A.C.T., a student RSO that votes on plays, secures performance rights, and take care of every facet of production.  While some members of the Holy Cross faculty (notably Rob Mack, Technical Director at the college) would provide critiques that went directly to director Molly Oliver '12, they lacked any executive power.    

  Tom Campbell, ‘14, an ensemble member of the cast, has described the relationship between the students and faculty as such: "The professors are mentors, not bosses."  While they did have their say, final say in A.C.T. production is in the hands of the students.

   Oliver said this of her attempt to make the play feel unique: "Since Sweeney is done so often, I  (with the help of my choreographers) did our best to create a production with some new takes on these ideas, while still staying true to the core of the story. We incorporated movement a lot to represent different social and economic classes. I staged the show in such a way to make sure I am telling the story clearly and creatively, while making sure the political and social commentaries shine through the entire production.  I am most looking forward to seeing my cast and crew finally be able to show the Holy Cross community how hard they've worked on the show. I have been lucky enough to work with an extremely talented group of people who have been on board and committed one hundred percent since day one, all the way back in September 2011."

   What makes this student-driven effort all the more impressive is the sheer time commitment.  Production started immediately following auditions – meaning the cast and crew has been working on this musical since September.  Initially, the almost daily rehearsals were 2-3 hours in length.  However, after January, 6-11 hours became the norm.  

   But how does a musical like this come together?  Campbell explained that there are three main types of rehearsals: acting, vocal, and music.  Sometimes they would just block scenes, other times they would do character work by analyzing motives and objectives, and still other times they would learn songs – harmonies, melodies, and all.  Eventually, everything gets added together and the musical becomes whole.

   Students who had the opportunity to enjoy the production would have noted that, even though there was only one set, the production had undeniable color.  This was achieved through a clever use of the ensemble.  In Sweeney, particular care was taken to individualize members of that particular non-acting-line group.  Included were a happy-go-lucky chimney sweep, a depressed factory worker, and a slew of prostitutes who breathed life onto the stage.  

   Fortunately, this vibrant ensemble was not wasted, as Patrick Chiarolanzio, ‘13 portrayed Sweeney Todd with such a visceral attitude that he accidentally caused a cut on the throat of a cast member!  The audience at Thursday night's show, which gave him a standing ovation along with the other performances' crowds,  noted his success in the role.  

    Other members of the cast include Matt Helfer, ‘12, Jessica Pilloni, ‘12, Christian Krenek, ‘12, Conor Sullivan, ‘14, Patrick Simas, ‘14, David Martinez, ‘12, Danielle Santos, ‘14, Solon Kelleher, ‘15, and, of course, Mrs. Lovet, Kate Sheridan, ‘12.  

  As this is her last show during her Holy Cross career, Sheridan described the entire experience as such, finding particular humor in the response from Ciampi: "I've been doing theatre here since my freshman year, so while it's so hard to say goodbye I honestly couldn't have asked for a better send-off. The production team was fantastic – it was such a team effort, everyone was willing to take so many risks and the entire cast really believed in making this show come to life. We were almost completely sold out for the run and got a standing ovation at every performance – but my personal favorite was getting compliments from the Jesuits! (For those who missed it – the Act 1 Finale is called "A Little Priest" and references eating pies made out of people, including the clergy)."

   Echoing Sheridan's sentiments, Christine Freije '13, ensemble member and A.C.T. Vice-Chair, called the musical a "blast to perform," claiming "it was a real rush to get to be so creepy and in-your-face."  She was also enthralled by the reaction, claiming that the entire cast received "such a great reception, even from people who don't normally like theatre.  It's not an easy show – it's long, it's complicated, a huge challenge to produce – and to have people respond so well to it is something we're really proud of."

   Audience reactions were extraordinarily positive.  Julia Midland, ‘14, claimed that she "loved it, it was haunting yet funny, which was great.  The darkness of the humor drew me in and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the show!"

   Of particular note with this production was a change in pricing.  Previously, tickets for students had been $7 and $10 for the general population.  Sweeney saw a raise in prices, with student tickets costing $10 and general tickets going for $15.  This did not slow sales, as the play raised $8,802, nearly selling out the opening night.

 

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