ROCHESTER, NY — Seething Victorian London comes to Kilbourn Hall (26 Gibbs St.) this fall as Eastman Opera Theatre presents Stephen Sondheim’s musical thriller Sweeney Todd. Performances will be held at 8 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, October 30-November 1, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 2.
Sweeney Todd is the tale of a barber named Benjamin Barker, unjustly sentenced by the lecherous Judge Turpin, who took his wife and child from him. After 15 years in prison, Barker escapes and returns to London, under a new identity — Sweeney Todd — to avenge his ruined life. He meets up with Nellie Lovett, a woman who bakes and sells meat pies, and before long there is a strange relationship between the customers who receive Sweeney’s closest shaves and the fillings of Mrs. Lovett’s newly popular pies.
Sweeney Todd’s mammoth 1979 original Broadway production was directed by Harold Prince, but Steven Daigle, stage director of Eastman Opera Theatre, will give the show “a different focus and connect the story to traditional theater, especially Shakespeare and old-fashioned melodrama.” A thrust stage and an ingenious set (designed by Mary Griswold) will help transform Kilbourn Hall into 1840s London.
Despite its grim subject matter, Sweeney Todd has become a very popular show, frequently produced in opera houses. Its fast-moving, often violent stage action is complemented by Sondheim’s soaring, romantic music. “I think people are attracted to the macabre,” says music director Benton Hess. “But also, when you leave this show, it gives you so much to think about.” Daigle adds: “You’re drawn in by Sondheim’s music and witty lyrics.”
Both men find that performing and staging Sweeney Todd is a sophisticated challenge. “This is the craftiest piece of musical theater that exists,” says Hess. “Everything in it is related to everything else. And Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett are the roles of a lifetime.”
Sweeney Todd features two alternating casts of Eastman voice students accompanied by a special student chamber orchestra conducted by Hess, distinguished professor of voice at Eastman. Leading the cast are Ted Christopher and J.J. Hudson as Sweeney Todd; Alta Boover and Abby Fischer as Mrs. Lovett; Carl DuPont and Jonathan Michie as Anthony Hope; Erin Snell and Annamarie Zmolek as the Beggar Woman; Sam Haddad and Munenori Sugitani as Judge Turpin; Dan Hinson and Allen Stowe as The Beadle; Karen Sorenson and Debbie Stanley as Johanna; Michel Kelly as Tobias Ragg; and Pablo Bustos and Drake Danzler as Pirelli.
Reserved tickets for the opera are $20, $16, $13, and $8. They are available in person at the Ticket Express Box Office (875 Main St. in the Auditorium Theatre) or its new “satellite” location in the Main Hall of the Eastman School of Music (Monday-Friday, noon-5 p.m.). Tickets also are available by phone at 232-1900 or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Any unsold tickets may be purchased at the Kilbourn Hall box office one hour prior to the start of each performance.
In addition, a Sweeney Todd pre-performance talk sponsored by the Friends of Eastman Opera (FEO) and featuring Russell Miller, associate professor of vocal coaching and repertory at Eastman, will be held Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Oct. 30-Nov.1. Each talk – held at 7 p.m. each evening in the private dining room at Max at Eastman Place (25 Gibbs St.) – is free and open to the public, but guests are asked to call 274-1040 to reserve a seat.
Note to editors: Steven Daigle and Benton Hess are available for interviews.