‘Sweeney Todd’ brings horror to the Gumption Theater


Lena Bianchi, Head of Illustration

Gory, creepy, and eerie are only a few of the words the audience might think of after watching The Urban School’s fall production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This horror musical both shocked and entertained the audience. The 15 students in the this year’s fall production class tackled this musical thriller with great determination in order to produce six nights of a full length production.


The character of Sweeney Todd made its first appearance in an 1840’s story titled “The String of Pearls” by James Malcolm Rymer. This current musical is an adaptation of Christopher Bond’s book and comes to life on stage through the words of Hugh Wheeler and soundtrack by Stephen Sondheim. The story follows the life of a Victorian-era barber who seeks revenge on the judge who punished and exiled him, leaving his family behind. The Urban School’s fall production class worked together to transform this story into a powerful production directed by the teacher of the fall production class, Wendy Parkman.


This performance gave Urban students the opportunity to practice acting, singing, dancing, stage design, and instrumental accompaniment. Ten weeks of rehearsal culminated in six performances, November 9th through 11th. Over the years, the Urban theater program has produced a range of musical productions, from upbeat and lighthearted fairy tale stories to complex and realistic depictions of teenage life, but this musical brings a different level of drama, dark comedy, and horror.


For some members of the cast, Sweeney Todd was not a predictable choice for the fall production.

“I’m not going to lie, at first I really wasn’t thrilled that we were doing Sweeney Todd. I think I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for Sweeney Todd as time has gone on. I absolutely love it now, and I think I’ve found places to be comedic in [the show] where it totally is not supposed to be,” said Eleanor Sloan (‘18), who was double cast as the role of Johanna.


While the production initially came across as gruesome and cruel, many noticed that the themes that arose from the performance are similar to issues that impact the community today. “It says a lot about natural human instinct and who gets to decide justice, which is relevant to right now. It brings up who has power, why they have power and who decides that they get that power,” said Renee Theodore (‘19), who played the role of Mrs. Lovett.


Aside from intense dramatic scenes that played out on stage, teamwork helped the cast and crew to present a quality performance. Chiara Whitehurst (‘20), who was double cast as the beggar woman, mentioned the skills that she practices everyday, learning from the class and her peers. “I think getting to know everyone in the cast is one of the best parts. This is my first time acting in anything and I’ve liked getting to know how that works and how to act and be in a production,” she said.


Fall production is without a doubt a significant commitment as rehearsals occur after school hours. Eliana Frank (‘19), who was a member of the ensemble, commented on the long hours that it takes in order to prepare for a lengthy and intensive production. Frank said, “It’s a lot. We have rehearsals going until 5pm during week three, and starting week four and five it goes until 6pm. Then the week before the production, we stay until 7pm every day. Plus we had to work on our auditions during the first week, so it definitely adds up.”


Overall, the production has given all cast and crew a deep understanding for the importance of hard work and teamwork – which was evident to all who went to see it.