/sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street

Music and Lyrics:
Stephen Sondheim

Book: Hugh Wheeler

Adapted from a play by: 
Christopher Bond

Set design: Josh Barilla 

Designing Sweeney Todd came out of my curiosity in examining the dynamics between people in power and those who are vulnerable.  These powers trickle down into everyday life in various forms.  From governments taking advantage of underprivileged communities, to corporations misleading consumers and undervaluing their employees. 

With thesis in mind, I walked into a McDonald’s last year listening to “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” in my headphones.  I bought a happy meal and started to imagine what kind of production could come out of these two ingredients.  The stem of a corporate fast food giant mixed with the music of Sondheim and the story of a wronged barber who bakes his victims into meat pies.  This story has been told and retold again.  At this point, the fable of Sweeney Todd has become one of mythology and I was interested in seeing what other contexts can be applied to this base tale.

In this production, I’ll be exploring the disillusion that is present in consumer behavior.  Everything is not as it seems.  As consumers we tend not to think about where things come from.  The devices we buy are perfectly disguised in attractively designed packaging.  The food we eat is far removed from the process in which we see it made.  Additionally, this production highlights how corporate greed and power easily seduce one into abusing such power against their ethics, sometimes even without their knowing it. 

We start the play in present day London examining the multilevel facade of a corporate structure.  Outside this structure we watch as businesspeople swing in and out of the revolving door, mixing with others on the street.  This serves as the container for the story to unfold. 

As we work through the tale of Sweeney Todd we see the space break down from its formal structure to an abstract expression of Mrs. Lovett’s struggling small business. By the end, the pie shop has rapidly evolved into a fast food giant and meat pie factory, a far cry from its humble beginnings.

Judge Turpin is the CEO figure of power in this world sitting at the top of the corporate structure.  As we journey through the piece we see Todd and Lovett turn from disenfranchised vulnerable commoners to using the very tactics of the corporate powers, like Turpin, that they’ve been targeting.