Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is undoubtedly one of the master’s best beloved musicals. A haunting story about a man who returns to Victorian London after decades exiled to Australia, the show’s intricate and compelling music has stimulated imagination for three decades—and now it comes to Wesleyan’s ’92 theater. This ambitious student production is directed by Blair Laurie ’12 and musically directed by Alex Pfeifer-Rosenblum ’10. The Argus was able to sit down with Laurie and Pfeifer-Rosenblum for an inside look into the workings of this show.
Argus: So, why did you two want to produce “Sweeney Todd”?
Alex Pfeifer-Rosenblum: I was introduced to Stephen Sondheim last year, through working on “Sundays in the Park with George.” And I was really impressed with the music, actually. Over the summer I was here, and I saw “Sweeney Todd” for the first time with Chris [Ceccolini ’11], actually, who’s also playing Anthony in “Sweeney.” And, uh…I guess I didn’t know quite what to think of it the first time I saw it. But I thought the music was great, just really, really great musical storytelling. And something about it…this story is obviously really strange, but something about it really drew me to it. I think it was mostly actually the music that I loved. And then last semester…
Blair Laurie: So then last semester, I was actually sitting at the Second Stage table at the activities fair, and Alex Pfeifer-Rosenblum comes up…and he was talking to [Emily Caffery ’10] about how he was looking for a director for “Sweeney Todd,” which he really wanted to music direct…so I kind of timidly raised my hand and was like, “Hey, I was kind of looking to direct a project, this semester or next semester, and while this would be incredibly ambitious for a first-time director, I’m kind of a crazy person, and would really like to do it.” I’m a huge fan of the show, I think Sondheim’s a bitch, but he is so talented, and the music is amazing. The story is just really…really deep, and it’s just a great show, and I’m really glad that this happened.
A: For both of you, what was the most challenging part of this process been so far?
BL: I don’t want to speak for [Alex], but I think our biggest challenge for the show as a whole has been the music…Sondheim is a huge bitch, and he likes to see people suffer, but…that suffering is really beautiful when people rehearse and get it down, and seeing that evolve from Cheryl Tan tearing her hair out to giving them a seven out of twelve (which is great, for her!)…that evolution has been the biggest challenge, I think…but seeing that come together has been amazing.
A: What are some of your favorite songs, or bits from the show that aren’t songs?
AP: I think there are different songs that are really good for different things. I really like the song “Pretty Women,” just because I think it’s a beautiful song. And I really love the song in the scene that’s the third “Johanna,” where Sweeney Todd is singing this beautiful song, beautiful melody about how much he’s missing his daughter…as he’s horrifically killing people. And I think it’s a great scene because…to me the show is just kind of about how if you’re living your life really attached to the past, how much it makes you suffer. And I think that song just does a really good job of showing that.
BL: I one hundred percent agree, that’s one of my favorite moments in the play. There are really, really beautiful moments in this show…heartbreaking moments, dark moments, but still a lot of comic moments also. I think “A Little Priest” is one example of this…and I think the funniest thing or the most interesting thing is actually, the audience gets really into this thing and this is a really funny moment, but then you sort of have to stop and think about what people are laughing about and the fact that they’re taking—well, I am, maybe I’m just a sick individual—taking pleasure out of this idea of killing people and baking them into pies. You’re laughing, or being engaged, by this murder. He’s a serial killer! And she’s clearly insane, she’s putting people into pies. But the audience just sort of goes along with it, and there’s a line at the way end, “Perhaps today you gave a nod to Sweeney Todd.” I want to catch the audience off guard and have them take a step back and see how much they can relate to these characters who are clearly very amoral.
A: Is there anything you want the audience to take away from the show? Is there something you’re aiming for in terms of what the audience experiences?
BL: For me it’s sort of something I touched upon earlier: the idea that these are very relatable characters. You know, you have the murderer, you have the insane woman who’s baking people, you have these two teenagers who see each other and fall madly in love, it’s all these sort of ridiculous things that the audience would laugh at, things that I laugh at. But I think under all of that silliness, and darkness, there are very human emotions driving these actions, and I think if the audience can take something out of this it would be using this show to sort of get a new view of themselves. …That sounded so pretentious!
A: Anything else you guys want people to know?
BL: It’s going to be a fantastic show. And this isn’t my being conceited, because this has nothing to do with me at this point, it’s that the cast is so talented…
AP: They’ve been phenomenal, yeah…
BL: And the crew has been working so hard; just so many people have put so much into this production, and it’s really going to show.