The Tony award-winning musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" notoriously blends the macabre with comedy, and Altoona Community Theatre's production is bringing another dimension to the story of the wrongly accused barber bent on revenge: relatability.
"In terms of the story telling, historically, 'Sweeney Todd,' ... has been told as a melodrama and it's been played for laughs, but this version of the story I think really treats the characters as real people. ... My goal is to keep that realism, to still allow for the humor and all that stuff, but to keep it real. ... I think an audience is able to connect more with a production and get more from it if they can somehow relate to the characters on stage and so that's my goal - to keep it entertaining but still have it be grounded in reality," the production's director Jonathan O'Harrow said.
"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is closing out the companys's 2013-14 season, running May 1 to 4 at the Mishler Theatre.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Bryce Cossitor as Sweeney Todd prepares to give Tom Liszka as Judge Turpin a “close” shave in 'Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Meat shop owner Mrs. Lovett (Amy Misera) uses whatever resources she has to keep producing her meat pies.
"In amidst the macabre nature of the show, I hope that we are able to convey to the audience what a sad and tormented man Sweeney is," Bryce Cossitor, who plays the title character, wrote in an email. "Although he has obviously gone over the edge and is now obsessed with killing, there is something so pathetic about what has driven him to this point, that you hope the audience will feel sorry for him. The challenge for me is to keep him human and worthy of their pity."
Playing the character is a "dream role," for Cossitor, he said.
"It is such an intense role both dramatically and musically," he said. "It takes a lot of focus and stamina to perform the role of Sweeney. He has such a range of emotions and Sondheim has captured that in what many consider his best score."
If you go
What: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
When: 7:30 p.m. May 1, 2 and 3, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 4
Where: Mishler Theatre, Altoona
Tickets: Prices range from $13 to $23, box office fees included, discounts available for students and active military. Tickets are available at the box office from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays, by phone 944-9434, and online at www.mishlertheatre.org.
The musical score from American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim is the most challenging the production's music director Cathy Young has worked on, she said.
"Oh, there's so many lyrics, so many words. He prides himself in the fact that he doesn't repeat anything. And the music tells the story. There's limited dialogue in the whole show," she said. "And for the audience it's going to be a bit of a challenge too, because you really have to listen to the words so we have to make sure that they can understand what they're saying. But it's been fun too. It's been a great time."
In a book Young was reading, Sondheim described the musical "so abruptly right," calling it "'a movie for the stage or a 'musical horror story,' is another way he describes it too," she said.
The former longtime Tyrone music teacher feels growth working on the show, which she said is "not your typical musical by a long shot" and is "so hard harmonically and rhythmically."
The musical "from the beginning to the end it's just one big fun roller coaster ride as far as unexpected things happen and things you know that are going to happen but he plays around when he's going to let it happen," she said.
O'Harrow is excited about bringing the musical he may love above any other to the area.
"It's one of my favorite shows. In fact, it may be my favorite musical of any I've ever encountered and I really love it," he said. "It was a daunting challenge for me. It was a scary project to sign on to, but I'm very glad I did. I'm really excited for the area to see it.
"I think the movie that came out a few years ago opened some people's eyes to the show and brought it to a new generation so I think it's the kind of show that is appealing to the people who knew it the first time around, 35 years ago when it opened on Broadway, but it also will be appealing to the newer generation who just became interested in the show in the last couple years."
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.