The Demon Barber comes to Dal

Dalhousie’s Opera Workshop performs Sweeney Todd

- January 26, 2012

The Dalhousie Opera Workshop's performance promises a bloody good time.
The Dalhousie Opera Workshop's performance promises a bloody good time.

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is about to make a guest appearance on University Avenue.

Dalhousie’s Opera Workshop
, known for its top-notch productions of classical fare such as Dido and Aeneas and Orpheus in the Underworld, has chosen Sweeney Todd as its 2012 showpiece.

Don’t be surprised if the show’s title rings a bell more loudly than its antique counterparts; Sweeney Todd is perhaps the most infamous work by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (also known for his frenzied fairy-tale epic, Into The Woods), and was previously brought to the masses by Tim Burton’s 2007 film.  

Despite Sweeney Todd’s pop-culture appeal, however, director Brent Krysa says the show has all the musical depth and staying power of its more traditional counterparts.

“The work is considered a melodrama,” he explains, comparing its scope and subject matter to Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. “It started out in the musical theatre canon… but a lot of opera companies have adapted it now.”

And while Sweeney Todd’s music is unusual, it’s not unpleasant for the audience, says conductor Adam Burnette.

“Although it’s hard to create, somehow it’s really easy to listen to. [Sondheim] likes puzzles. The music is sort of a puzzle… there’s a sort of asymmetry to the music… unusual shapes or patterns. There’s all these sort of jagged pieces put together.”

“No one could sing it who wasn’t a singer,” agrees Dal voice professor Marcia Swanston, who is both producing and co-starring in Sweeney Todd.

“Except Johnny Depp,” Mr. Krysa adds.

Steampunk sensibility

In fact, the Opera Workshop’s Sweeney Todd will have little in common with Burton’s movie: the production will retain elements which the film excised, such as a Greek chorus-like group of narrators. They also plan to eschew filmic subtlety.

“This piece should be robust,” says Mr. Krysa. “We don’t really try to go to reality in this.” Costumes will be “sort of steampunky,” and professors and students from Eastern College will handle the show’s makeup.

Sweeney is certainly difficult and demanding, but it’s also an excellent show,” Prof. Swanston says.

The production has been in the works since last term, and auditions were held in early September.

“I was a little britches-on-fire for the audition,” recalls third-year student Ian MacNeil, who snagged the plum role of Sweeney Todd. He’s since had a chance to attend to his britches, and to sink his teeth into his character, which is his “biggest role ever. It’s a lot to sing through!”

Fortunately, Mr. MacNeil is already a seasoned performer: his band, Jackson Jha, is well-known across campus, including its “Student Poverty Song” and “See You In September.”

“We’re just YouTube famous,” he says modestly.

Skin-crawling Technicolor

“It’ll be scary at moments, it’ll be happy at moments, and it’ll make your skin crawl,” promises third-year student Ryan Josey, who plays Anthony in the production.

So rise from your PCs and laptops and get thee to the box office to purchase tickets to Sweeney Todd (or order your tickets online) – but leave the young ones at home, as the plot does revolve around murder via close shave and subsequent cannibalistic pie-baking.

“It’s not the graphic that’s scary, it’s the sound,” says Mr. Krysa of the “shaving scenes.” “I think little kids would be scared.”

“(There’s) too much Technicolor for a small person,” Prof. Swanston laughs.

Sweeney Todd will run February 2-4 at 7:30 PM and February 5 at 2:30 PM in the Dunn Theatre (Dalhousie Arts Centre). Tickets are $17.50/12.00 and may be purchased through the Dalhousie Arts Centre box office.


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