THURSDAY 20 July at 7:30 pm
Barber Sweeney Todd returns to London after 15 years in exile and aims to take revenge on the corrupt judge who banished him. When baker Mrs. Lovett is in desperate need of fresh meat for her pies, Sweeney implements a cunningly murderous solution to boost her business.
Songs include "Johanna", "By the Sea", and "Pretty Women”. This Sondheim classic was Broadway's Tony-award winner for Best Musical. Featuring Andrew Cummings (Capriccio, 2014) as Sweeney, Anna Singer (The Merry Widow, 2013) as Mrs. Lovett, and Robert Frankenberry (Ariadne on Naxos, 2013) as the Beadle.
Due to its subject matter, Sweeney Todd is not recommended for children younger than 12 years old.
"As befits an opera company, the performers are mostly singers who act (rather than actors who sing). And this is a gloriously sung production—gorgeous voices coming at us without the interference of amplification." [Read full review...]
—Pittsburgh City Paper
"The Pittsburgh Festival Opera lacks the resources to recreate the original musical’s spectacle; nevertheless, it has produced a very fine chamber version of this whackily macabre show. Its pared-down rendition puts focus on the music and vocal performers..." [Read full review...]
—The Pittsburgh Tatler
"Where will the loathsome tale end? If you guessed in “blood and gore,” you’ve won the big money prize! Luckily, director Tomé Cousin handles the carnage artfully. When Todd slices a throat, scarlet billows forth from the victim's neck like an explosion of rose petals. It is beautiful and macabre." [Read full review...]
"Stephen Sondheim’s musical adaptation of Sweeney Todd has been entertaining audiences for nearly forty years, and last night’s performance of the work by Pittsburgh Festival Opera did much to explain the show’s enduring popularity." [Read full review...]
—Pittsburgh in the Round
Sweeney Todd is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI.
Sung in English with projected titles in English.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission
|Music and Lyrics||Stephen Sondheim|
|Scenic Design||Hank Bullington|
|Projection Design||Hank Bullington|
|Costume Design||Rachel Wyatt|
|Lighting Design||Bob Steineck|
|Hair and Makeup Design||Jina Pounds|
|Assistant Director||Ian Silverman|
|Stage Manager||Kathleen Stakenas|
|Assistant Stage Managers||Francesca Mamlin|
|Sweeney Todd/Benjamin Barker||Andrew Cummings|
|Mrs. Lovett||Anna Singer|
|Anthony Hope||Adam Hollick|
|Johanna Barker||April Amante|
|Judge Turpin||Adam Cioffari|
|Tobias Ragg||John Teresi|
|Beadle Bamford||Robert Frankenberry|
|Beggar Woman||Lesley Baird|
|Adolfo Pirelli||Thomas Cilluffo|
|Jonas Fogg||Alex Longnecker|
|Angela Joy Lamb|
|Michele Renee Williams|
Sweeney Todd relates his troubled past to Anthony. He was just a naïve barber when a deceitful judge by the name of Turpin, with the assistance of his sidekick Beadle Bamford, banished Sweeney in order to seduce his wife.
Sweeney enters a pie shop run by Mrs. Lovett who complains of the difficulty of obtaining meat for her pies. She also mentions that a room above her shop is vacant, recalling that it had been the apartment of Benjamin Barker. He had been deported and his wife Lucy had been seduced by the judge. Later Lucy had committed suicide and her daughter Johanna was made the ward of the judge. Sweeney reveals the truth—that he is Benjamin Barker—whereupon Mrs. Lovett returns his razors, which she had found and kept, and encourages him to go back to his trade.
Elsewhere Anthony spies a girl sitting in her window. Her name is Johanna. Though he is chased away by her father, he promises to return to visit with her.
Later Sweeney exposes a charlatan by the name of Pirelli selling—with the help of his simple-minded assistant, Toby Ragg—a miracle elixir. At the same time he invites the Beadle who has been in the audience to the shop for a free shave. As Sweeney waits for him, Pirelli and Toby make a surprise visit. Pirelli reveals that he was Sweeney’s assistant fifteen years ago and that he knows Sweeney’s identity. To ward off blackmail, Sweeney injures Pirelli and hides him, later slitting his throat. In the meanwhile Anthony has persuaded Johanna to elope with him.
Panicked by Pirelli’s murder, Mrs. Lovett makes plans with Sweeney to dispose of the corpse. In the midst of their conversation, the judge appears and then Anthony, who unwittingly reveals his plan to elope with Johanna.
Angered beyond control, Sweeney drives them all out of the shop and swears to kill anyone who enters the shop in the future. The canny Mrs. Lovett suggests that his victims could supply meat for her tarts.
Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett devise a chute which will deliver their victims to the bakeshop in the cellar. She dreams of retirement while Sweeney plots the death of Judge Turpin, craftily informing him that Anthony plans to rescue his daughter from the asylum where the judge keeps her in confinement. Toby appears searching for his master. Mrs. Lovett, afraid of betrayal, locks him in the basement instructing him how to use the meat grinder. Upstairs she discovers the Beadle sent by the neighbors to investigate the odd-smelling smoke rising from her shop’s chimney. Now Sweeney delivers the “promised shave”. When Toby discovers the Beadle's corpse in the basement, Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett decide to kill him as well.
In a violent scene in the asylum Anthony frees Johanna as well as the other inmates. They flee to the bake shop into which a beggar woman (she has appeared casually in previous scenes) wanders in, only to be cut down by Sweeney. The judge appears, searching for Johanna. Assured that she is alright, he accepts Sweeney’s offer of “a splash of cologne.” Settled in the barber chair the judge recognizes who Sweeney really is—too late. The razor slices and down the chute he goes.
Downstairs Mrs. Lovett struggles with the dying judge giving Johanna and Anthony an opportunity to flee. Meanwhile Mrs. Lovett drags the beggar woman into the oven, but as she does, Sweeney discovers them and realizes that the beggar woman is actually his wife, Lucy.
Mrs. Lovett ruefully confesses that she has not told Sweeney the truth about his wife, since she herself is in love with him. Sweeney pretends forgiveness but in a frenzy pushes her into the oven. Then, as a final touch, Toby, demented by his imprisonment in the basement seizes, Sweeney’s razor and cuts Sweeney’s throat.
For those who did not avail themselves of a trip to Pigalle in Paris and a visit to the now defunct Théâtre Grand Guignol, Pittsburgh Festival Opera is affording today’s audience the opportunity to shudder and occasionally laugh at the same sort of macabre goings-on that Parisian audiences enjoyed for more than six decades.
Stephen Joshua Sondheim is without question the most distinguished figure in American musical theater. He is the third generation of such artists, preceded by Victor Herbert (for fifteen years conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony) and the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Sondheim’s most familiar works are A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and the occasionally controversial Sweeney Todd.
The fictional character Sweeney Todd has enjoyed an extended literary life which began almost two hundred years ago in a “penny dreadful” published in eighteen parts and rather innocently entitled The String of Pearls.
The career of Sweeney caught the attention of Sondheim because of a four act melodrama by Christopher Bond entitled Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street which premiered in 1973. Sondheim’s adaptation is based on Bond’s play with the assistance of Hugh Wheeler. It was first performed in 1979 with Len Cariou in the role of Sweeney—he currently is featured on CBS’ Blue Bloods—and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett. Harold Prince was director.
The success of this “musical thriller”—in spite of its lurid details or perhaps because of them—has been phenomenal. It received three Tony Awards—for best musical, for best book and for best score. It has in a number of instances been mounted as an operatic production. The story that circulates is that the highly respected music critic for The Nation, Harold Clurman, catching sight of the then general manager of the Metropolitan Opera Schuyler Chapin, cornered him, and asked him rather prematurely why he had not produced Sweeney at the Met. To which Chapin replied, “I would have put it on like a shot if I’d had the opportunity. There would have been screams and yells but I wouldn’t have given a damn. Because it is an opera. A modern American opera.” The story has a rather odd ring.
For those curious about Sondheim’s choice of Sweeney for his musical, this excerpt from an interview he gave at the New School might be enlightening. “When I was fifteen years old, I saw a movie called Hangover Square, another epiphany in my life. It was a moody, romantic, gothic thriller about a composer in who, whenever he heard a high note, went crazy and ran around murdering people. It had a score by Bernard Herrmann, centered around a one-movement piano concerto. I wanted to pay homage to him with this show, because I had realized that in order to scare people, which is what Sweeney Todd is about, the only way you can do it, considering that the horrors out on the street are so much greater than anything you can do on the stage, is to keep music going all the time. That’s the principle of suspense sequences in movies. So Sweeney Todd not only has a lot of singing, it’s but infused with music to keep the audience in a state of tension, to make them forget they’re in a theater.”
Meet the Composer
[born March 22, 1930]
Stephen Sondheim is an American composer and lyricist known for more than a half-century of contributions to musical theatre. Sondheim has received an Academy Award, eight Tony Awards (more than any other composer, including a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre), eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Laurence Olivier Award, and a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been described by Frank Rich of The New York Times as "now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater." His best-known works as composer and lyricist include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods. He wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy.
Sondheim has also written film music, contributing "Goodbye for Now" to Warren Beatty's 1981 Reds. He wrote five songs for 1990's Dick Tracy, including "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" by Madonna, which won the Academy Award for Best Song.
The composer was president of the Dramatists Guild from 1973 to 1981. To celebrate his 80th birthday, the former Henry Miller's Theatre was renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on September 15, 2010, and the BBC Proms held a concert in his honor. Cameron Mackintosh has called Sondheim "possibly the greatest lyricist ever."
Meet the Librettist
[19 March 1912–26 July 1987]
Hugh Wheeler was an English-born American-based playwright, screenwriter, librettist, poet, and translator. He resided in the United States from 1934 until his death and became a naturalized citizen in 1942. He had attended London University.
Under the noms de plume Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge, Wheeler was the author or co-author of many mystery novels and short stories. In 1963, his 1961 collection, The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow was given a Special Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. He won the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical in 1973 and 1974 for his books for the musicals A Little Night Music and Candide, and won both again in 1979 for his book for Sweeney Todd.
Wheeler is credited as "research consultant" for the film Cabaret, though numerous sources list him as co-writer of the screenplay.