By Ron Leir
Ready for a bit of skullduggery flavored with some twisted Sondheim music?
Then you’ll want to see the Harrison High School Drama Club’s deliciously dark depiction of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Yes, it’s the Broadway thriller musical with music by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler that featured Len Cariou as the British barber back from an Australian exile with a vengeance and Angela Lansbury as the doomed pie maker Mrs. Lovett in the original cast from 1979 which won a Tony for Best Musical.
The curtain rises 7:30 p.m. for the opening performance on Thursday, April 3, and two more shows follow at the same time on Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April 5, in the Harrison High School auditorium, 800 Hamilton St.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, children and senior citizens.
Producer Matt Boryszewski acknowledges that “Sweeney” is “a different kind of show for us. The past few years, we’ve been doing more of the kind of shows that would attract children but now I think our kids are ready for this.”
In the role of the tonsorial terror Sweeney Todd is senior Melvin Espinal, who played the lead in last year’s Drama Club production of “Once on This Island.”
Other featured performers include: junior Anna Teixera, (Mrs. Lovett), who was a chorus member in “Once on This Island” and in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”; junior David Pineda (Anthony), who sings with the Blue Note Singers ensemble and the Concert Choir; freshman Karla Vasquez (Johanna), a Concert Choir member who is making her Drama Club debut; and senior Gianmarco Haro (Tobias), who was the choreographer and dance captain for last year’s spring show and who will be the featured artist in the upcoming Hudson County Teen Arts Festival.
While the members of the Drama Club certainly are more than a few generations removed from the time period when the show initially played at the Uris Theater in Manhattan, “They’ve watched the films with Lansbury and, later, with Johnny Depp,” Boryszewski noted.
And the cast of 24 has been “practicing since December,” he added, so they’ve definitely been put through their paces by first-time director Colin Shields, who has been helping out the club with set designs and scenery for the last couple of years.
Colin’s mom, Mary Pat, is serving as musical director for the show.
Speaking like a set designer, Shields said he’s modeled the look of the show as “heavily monochromatic with splashes of red (highlighting the theme of flowing blood) and green for the salty hue of London as a port city in the 1800s and our actors in all black costumes for the eerieness we portray.”
“We’ve got a very intricate, multi-level set and various special effects,” Shields said. A set crew of 15 students fashioned Sweeney’s barber’s chair, Mrs. Lovett’s bake shop (and created her very unique meat pies) and a few of the costumes that are mostly rented. Sweeney’s razors specially made for the show are also rented.
Elaborating on the producer’s comments about the club’s abrupt change in thematic direction with “Sweeney,” Shields said: “I wanted to do something unexpected versus a child-friendly show and I think our students can handle the material. We think it will be rewarding for our older kids.”
And, said Shields, while “we’ve tried to stay true to the story line, with a little bit of a twist, our version is more in the vein of the sleek, more contemporary notion” more characteristic of the 2005 Broadway revival at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, directed by John Doyle and featured tuba playing Patti Lupone in the Mrs. Lovett role.
Unlike the Doyle production, however, the cast won’t be playing instruments – in fact, there’ll be no musicians at all. “We’ll be using recorded tracks of the Broadway score,” Shields said. “We’ve gone with this approach the past two years. The advantage is from day one of practice, you have full accompaniment [instead of just a piano]. And the kids can load it onto their iPhone or MP3 Player to practice at home.”
For his teenage cast, “Sondheim is a very challenging score,” Shields said. “His musical style keeps them on their toes. It’s a learning curve and our kids have risen to the occasion. They’re very excited about it.”
Although the play is set in England, cast members won’t be attempting British accents. “We thought we’d only complicate the show it by doing that,” Shields said. “We’ll rely on the audience’s suspension of disbelief.”
To aid students on the acting front, the MTI score package, said Shields, “comes with study guides providing background on London life in the 1800s and an explanation of the social hierarchy of the culture, from the Judge (one of the play’s characters) and his privileged class down to the Beggar Woman and the lower classes.”
For Melvin Espinal, 18, a garage band vocalist outside HHS, the focus is on “connecting with [Sweeney’s] emotions … to keep the rage flowing.” He’s used the film “The Crow” to help put him in the right mood. In a plot twist similar to the one in the play, “Brandon Lee plays a man whose wife has been raped and murdered and he has to get revenge,” Espinal said.
Pia Farinas, a 17-yearold senior who plays the rival barber Pirelli, is making her stage debut with the Drama Club after spending the past three years as a behindthe- scenes crew member. A drum captain and percussions leader with the HHS marching and concert bands, Farinas said she forced herself to overcome “huge stage fright” when she sang a duet with her sister in an HHS talent show.
“When I was looking at [the script for] ‘Sweeney Todd,’ I got hooked on the Pirelli role,” Farinas said. “I felt it was something I could really have fun with.”
And that’s something Shields is hoping that the audience will also experience. Running time for “Sweeney Todd,” including intermission, is two hours, 15 minutes.