Londoners called him Demon Barber, but the audience in LSU’s Claude L. Shaver Theatre will recognize him by his given name: Sweeney Todd.
The serial slasher will take command of the 19th century setting when the LSU Opera opens its 2015-16 season with an operatic version of Stephen Sondheim’s musical thriller, “Sweeney Todd — The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” on Thursday.
The story is gruesome, yet known for its dark comedy and heart-tugging redemption.
“If you want to categorize this story, it’s a revenge tragedy,” says director Dugg McDonough. “But it also leads to opportunity. Given the nature of this, it allows Mrs. Lovett to come up with the idea of increasing her meat pie business. And it’s in the cannibalistic aspect of this story, in the way people devour each other, where we find greed, avarice, lust and ambition.”
Yet, there’s something unexpected in this grisly story.
“It’s hilariously funny,” McDonough says. “And it’s incredibly moving — you care about the people in it. Sondheim took a horror story and turned it into something greater.”
The Tony Award-winning musical is based on Christopher Bond’s 1973 play.
Hugh Wheeler wrote the book for the musical, and Sondheim wrote both the music and lyrics for this story of Todd, who returns to London after 15 years of exile to take revenge on the corrupt judge who banished him in order to pursue Todd’s wife.
Todd moves into the apartment over the meat pie shop owned by Mrs. Lovett, who laments a shortage of meat. She also informs him that the judge became ward to Todd’s infant daughter after Todd’s wife committed suicide.
Todd establishes a barbershop in the apartment, and, after a run-in with a potential blackmailer — rival barber Pirelli — begins slitting his customers’ throats. Then the judge, not recognizing Todd, comes in for a haircut.
“I play The Beadle, who is the judge’s assistant,” says Greg Gallagher, a native of Dayton, Ohio, who’s here working on his doctorate degree in voice performance. “He’s the one who suggests that the judge visit Sweeney Todd to get groomed.”
The Beadle, Gallagher says, is one of the hardest characters he’s ever tackled.
“The judge has set his sights on Sweeney Todd’s daughter, and The Beadle has to be very careful in how he balances things,” the actor says. “He had to make his ideas sound like the judge’s.”
Todd learns of the judge’s plan and goes into a rage, vowing that everyone is corrupt and must die.
In the meantime, Mrs. Lovett doesn’t want to let an opportunity slip away. She suggests disposing of Todd’s victims through a trap door opening to a chute leading to her shop, where she’ll ground them into meat pies, resulting in her shop becoming Fleet Street’s most popular restaurant.
And business remains good, until a few pieces of Todd’s past resurface.