BWW Previews: SWEENEY TODD at Showstoppers

BWW Previews: SWEENEY TODD at Showstoppers
Sweeney and Mrs. Lovette
(Chris Carmona and Maya Samarasena)

Producing non-professional youth theatre generally involves a certain degree of instruction designed to give young actors and stagehands practical theatrical skills. Yet musical roles for teens are limited, and many kids end up playing the same characters over and over until adulthood unlocks new opportunities. With that in mind, it's exciting to see that Showstoppers, a Santa Barbara musical theatre training program for teens, has been diligently working with their young cast towards a performance of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, opening this Thursday and running this weekend. An intricate and demanding musical for even a cast of seasoned adults, Sweeney Todd is an exciting, ambitious theatrical undertaking that is sure to push the young cast to discovery in their craft. "Having a young cast is certainly the most challenging aspect of this process," says Marian Azdril, Showstoppers board member and costumer for Sweeney Todd. "There are many layers to this sophisticated and complex story. We hope this cast learns to do the homework, and come prepared to every rehearsal!"

A popular operatic musical that gets a fair amount of stage time (it was most recently performed by Ensemble Theatre Company in 2016), Sweeney Todd tells the story of Benjamin Barker, a London barber who is dispatched to exile as a criminal by the corrupt Judge Turpin, who harbors a fascination with Barker's wife. Barker returns to London fifteen years later to reconnect with his family and deliver swift and grotesque justice to the Judge. He takes up residence in the flat above Mrs. Lovett's meat-pie shop, and begins to offer customers "the closest shave in town," hoping to tempt patronage from Turpin so he can slit his throat with a straight razor. In the meantime, he practices on "less honorable throats," and strikes up a business partnership with Mrs. Lovett, who replaces her meat (from stray cats) with sumptuous human flesh from Todd's victims.

BWW Previews: SWEENEY TODD at Showstoppers

Anthony and Joanna
(Matthew Kleeburg and Lillian McKenzie)

Those familiar with the work will notice certain differences in Showstoppers' School Edition of the show; namely a slightly condensed plot and key transpositions that tailor the music for younger actors. This Sweeney Todd, which was modified by MTI with input from Sondheim, gives young performers a refreshingly provocative piece of theatre to study. "The cast helped choose the show this year," Azdril says. "They were hoping for a challenging play that would have "meaty" parts. We love the choice because, except for the leads, [the actors] jump in and out of the ensemble to play various parts." Azdril notes that the costumes are designed to allow actors to change roles quickly while also suggesting Victorian London.

Showstoppers is a Santa Barbara-based musical theatre training program that provides students the opportunity to learn by participating in a quality musical theatre production. The program focuses on teaching youth about all aspects of musical theatre. Young performers of all skill levels are welcome, and no previous experience is required.

Sweeney Todd, School Edition
By Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Radu Azdril
@ La Colina Jr. High
July 20, 21, 22

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