Sweeney Todd

'Razor sharp, bloody funny' show ready for Price
Oct. 10, 2011

LaGrange College Presents Ep#14 - "Sweeney Todd Preview" from LaGrange College on Vimeo .

If ever there was a right time for LaGrange College to do Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” it is now, according to Kim Barber Knoll, Chair of the Theatre Arts Department.

“It can be a really tough choice for a college production because of the demands in every area – casting, acting, music, scenery, costumes, props and sound,” she said. “We knew we had the students, faculty and guest actors to do it well. And I knew that Nate Tomsheck, our scenic designer and Technical Director, and Ashleigh Poteat, our costume designer, would do splendid work and really be able to showcase their talents.”

Knoll also consulted with Dr. Toni Anderson, Chair of the Music Department.

“Toni and I felt the timing was right for both the Theatre Arts and Music departments,” she said. “When we announced the production to the students, the response was fantastic.”

She then turned to Matthew Stuart, a professional director in New York. Knoll and Stuart are longtime friends who collaborated on a production of “Sweeney Todd” years ago at the Papermill Theatre in New Hampshire, and have always loved the show.

“We used to joke about my coming down to LaGrange,” Stuart said. “Then last fall, Kim called and said, ‘Now is the time for Sweeney.’ ”

Knoll is full of praise for the guest director.

“There is no one else who loves working with young actors more, and who can get as much out of them as Matthew,” she said. “It is a difficult, extremely challenging piece, but to pull it off and pull it off well, takes a director who is a really great storyteller and for us, one who cares about working with young, about-to-become professional actors.”

Stuart traveled to LaGrange for two weeks in August to lead a two-week intensive rehearsal process.

“It was an incredible, intense experience for all of us,” Knoll said. “Matthew arranged his schedule and actually gave up his summer vacation to work with us.  I think the students responded like real pros to the demands of that summer stock schedule.  It allowed them to focus on the project for literally eight to nine hours each day. It was exhausting, rewarding and required so much discipline. I can’t tell you how proud I am of all of our actors.”

The production will feature several guest artists, including Robby Glade as Sweeney Todd and Ed Biggs as Judge Turpin. Two familiar faces also will be on stage. Knoll takes on the role of Mrs. Lovett, which was made famous by Angela Lansbury; Dr. Anderson will appear as the Beggar Woman.

Knoll said it’s important for the students to experience their professors “practicing what they teach.”
“I love being onstage with them and watching them discover how significant each actor’s work is to the overall success of the production,” she said. “Once I’m onstage, I’m one of them, a member of this acting company.  It’s a great feeling.”

The artistic team includes the “best of both worlds, theater and music, which you must have to do this show,” she said.

“Debbie Ogle, Director of Choral Activities, is our musical director; Ken Passmore is on the piano; Mitch Turner, Associate Professor of Music, is on the bass in the pit; and we are thrilled to work with first lady Celeste Myall as our guest conductor.”

Knoll said there are many misconceptions about “Sweeney Todd.”

“The stage production is not as dark as the recent film version with Johnny Depp,” she said. “The stage show has a great sense of humor. This is Sondheim at his best, a haunting and captivating story. While dark at times, there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek, laugh-out-loud humor mixed in, and the score is unbelievable.”

Stuart concurred.

“It is silly, clever and full of sweeping passion,” he said. “Inside all the choral numbers, you have 10 or 12 different viewpoints, all overlapping, singing and arguing. It is so intricate yet is so fun. It’s great for actors because each actor has his or her own quirky point of view. And each choral piece is different, giving the actors opportunities to play both street people as well as the upper class. For a college company, it’s such a rich piece to work on. You get to see how many different layers a brilliant writer can put into one piece, even one song.”

Smiling, Knoll agreed.

“We have the company to pull off ‘Sweeney Todd,’ ” she said, “a tremendous accomplishment for everyone involved.”

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” opens Homecoming Weekend and will run Oct. 20–22 and Oct. 27–29. All performances are  at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at $15 for adults and $10 for non-LaGrange College students and senior citizens are available at the Price Theater box office and go on sale Oct. 10. Faculty and staff admission is free but tickets must be reserved in advance. This show is not suitable for children. For more information, call the box office at (706) 880-8080 or email priceboxoffice@lagrange.edu .

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