By Carolyn Molinelli
A vengeful barber, an immoral judge and a mysterious murder haunted Kendall Hall and captivated audiences during TCNJ Musical Theatre’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
The show premiered on Nov. 14, in the Don Evans Black Box Theater and ran until Nov. 18, and is a dark comedic classic based on the book, “The String of Pearls: The Original Tale of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” by Thomas Peckett Prest. It first premiered as a musical in 1979, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The student theater troupe at the College worked hard to put its own twist on the eerie story.
“When I chose this show I chose with TMT in mind,” said Jenna Burke, the show’s director and an English graduate student at the College.
Sweeney Todd was played by senior chemistry major Eric Schreiber, and Mrs. Nellie Lovett, was played by junior communications major Gretchen Newell. Both portrayed their titular characters well among a talented cast.
“It’s really fun and almost really cathartic to be able to kind of release everything and go nuts,” Schreiber said of playing the role.
The show begins with a haunting prelude, which leads into what is known in the theater community as one of the world’s greatest opening numbers, “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” Haunting and mysterious, the cast acts as a Greek chorus, telling the audience about the title character and his murderous ways with his straight razors, all without spoiling the plot.
“What happened then, well, that’s the play, and he wouldn’t want us to give it away,” the chorus sung.
The story then begins in 1846, London, where Todd thanks the young sailor Anthony, played by sophomore secondary education and history dual major Casey O’Neill, for saving his life at sea.
While discussing Todd’s plans in London, he tells Anthony the story of a barber and his wife who were brutally separated by a ruthless judge who sentenced him to prison for life on a false charge. It is revealed later that Todd is referring to his own predicament.
After parting, Todd arrives at a pie shop on Fleet Street owned by Lovett. This leads to one of the show’s comedic moments as Lovett laments about her awful pies, or as she calls them, the “worst pies in London.” She then recognizes Todd as her former upstairs neighbor from many years ago, Benjamin Barker, confirming to the audience that he is in fact the barber who was exiled and lost his wife to the lustful Judge Turpin, played by sophomore business management major Anthony Sofia.
Lovett also informs Todd that his wife had poisoned herself with arsenic after Turpin had lured her into his home and raped her. Turpin had also taken their one-year-old daughter Johanna, played by sophomore music education major Angelina Francese, and is currently raising her as his own.
Among all the unfortunate news, Lovett does reveal one silver lining — she had saved Todd’s silver barber’s razors.
The rest of the plot revolves around Todd’s killing spree, in which he becomes like Judge Turpin — a villain who gets away with his crimes.
The staging of the musical took on a Shakespearean aspect of storytelling where actors were recasted to portray several different characters. This brought more focus onto the actors as they told the story through their hilarious acting, all to the tune of thrilling musical numbers.
The cast members were pleased with how the show went, and were proud to see the fruits of their labor.
“This show was especially difficult to tackle and the entire cast and crew was so willing to give it all they had,” said Alaina Stampe, an ensemble member and freshman music and psychology double major. “I couldn’t be more impressed with the talent and professionalism in this company.”
The close capacity of the theater brought audience members closer and more immersed in the story.
“Through most of it, I was really anxious because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said audience member Eliana Sapin, a sophomore criminology major. “Overall it was a really good production and even though it wasn’t the happiest of shows I thought it was really well done.”
TMT’s tale of “Sweeney Todd” excited its audiences, who should be eager to see what’s up next for TMT.