BWW Interview: Director Tim Threlfall Q&A on SWEENEY TODD at UVU
The Noorda Center/Utah Repertory Theater Company production of SWEENEY TODD is shaping up to be the theatrical event of the season, with the insightful leadership of Director Tim Threlfall.
If I understand correctly, SWEENEY TODD is included in your bucket list of shows to direct. Why?
Threlfall: I think nearly every director of musicals has SWEENEY on his radar. It is something of a gold standard in the industry. Both the score and the libretto truly are a masterpiece. The complexity of the music is astounding, and I would have to say, SWEENEY TODD is one of the most difficult (if not THE most difficult) and challenging musicals I have ever directed. I've done a lot of new works lately, including several of Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn's shows, with both Frank and the book writer with us for part of the process. In spite of doing a lot of re-writing on these pieces and a great deal of tinkering with the scenes, SWEENEY still feels equally as daunting in spite of it being 40 years old! The fact that about 80 percent of the dialogue is underscored by music contributes to the complexity of this thriller musical.
What excites you most about directing this staging?
Threlfall: There have also been many very ingenious versions of the show over the years...and a popular film as well. Our telling of the Sweeney legend is pretty straightforward. We are highlighting the effects of the Industrial Revolution time period the show is set in. The audience will see "laborers" at work in what we have come to refer to as "cages." Seeing humans treated more like cogs in an industrial machine highlights the dehumanizing effect the early Industrial Revolution had on people. Sweeney has been treated with great injustice, but so have many of the residents of London in the 1840s. However, unlike "The Count of Monte Cristo" (one of the inspirations for the 1960s SWEENEY script the musical is based on), Sweeney follows-= through on his revenge. There really is no redemption story in this cautionary-tale telling of the distinctly British Sweeney legend.
We also give a nod to Steam Punk costumes in this production. The style is basically Victorian, but with industrial revolution accoutrements that give it both a provocative vibe and a sense of timelessness. The set too includes hints of Steam Punk styling.
Mr. Sondheim really is credited with ushering in an era of contemporary musicals that broke the mold of the traditional Golden Era musical. I've directed his "A Little Night Music" and worked on "Into the Woods" and "Sunday in the Park with George," all of which I greatly admire. But the complexity of SWEENEY TODD is significant. The construction of the libretto and how the dialogue and singing merge perfectly is amazing.
We have a stellar local cast as well as our visiting guest artists. A large number of the local cast members I've worked with before at Tuacahn and many are my former BYU Music Dance Theatre students as well as students from UVU.
What other productions you've directed hold special memories and why?
Threlfall: A few years back, I directed one of three regional premieres of "Hunchback of Notre Dame" at Tuacahn Amphitheatre. Out of the 14 shows I've been fortunate to direct in that unique venue, "Hunchback" is my personal favorite. I love the story and the emotions it elicits from an audience. Other favorites at Tuacahn include "Aida," "Big River" and "South Pacific."
Here at BYU we did one of just a handful of university productions of Andrew Llyod Weber's "Phantom of the Opera." It was huge success, both artistically and with patrons. The 1,200-seat deJong Concert Hall was completely full each night with no-show seats being raffled off just minutes before the curtain went up each night, so there literally never was an empty seat. Also, a new musical named "Berlin" that we shot like a television show with multiple cameras and a live audience here at BYU a number of years ago. The production garnered an Emmy Award as well as a Telly Award. Students involved with the show gained experience working directly with the composer/librettist, an orchestrator brought in from New York and shooting with multiple cameras before a live audience as well as a week of shooting specialty shots in a more conventional film manner. It certainly was the most comprehensive educational experience for young actors I have ever been fortunate enough to direct.