Sweeney Todd, the 1979 Sondheim revenge tragedy musical set in Victorian London, is a challenging and musically complex play to stage even for professional companies with big budgets - even more so for the Vermont based non-profit, Main Street Arts. Sweeney Todd is part of a larger strategy to build community and coordination between a number of small arts organizations on either side of the Connecticut River - a collaboration that defies the sinister nature of the plot.
Word of Mouth's Virginia Prescott took a trip over the border to the Bellow Falls Opera House in Rockingham, Vermont for the production's first dress rehearsal.
The Opera House is now a first run movie theatre and hasn't been used for staged plays in 20 years. Sweeney Todd's director and Main Street Artistic director David Stern had to petition the Select Board to hold the play at the theatre after the town manager turned the initial request down. Eventually everything was worked out, and the collaborating companies were allowed to build the scenery and rehearse during the day when no films were running - a challenge for the almost all volunteer crew who have day jobs.
The production involves a revolving set, which condenses most of the play's locations in a kind of Jules Verne meets Dickens conglomerate. On one side is the grand facade of Judge Turpin's home, on the other is the attic where Sweeney Todd slits the throats of his clients and Mrs. Lovett's dingy pie shop.
Visiting five days before the show opened, an ensemble cast member Marit Bjerkadal described the feeling as "panic in a good way." She's among the 33 cast members and 65 crew who've been focused on this play since auditions took place last summer.
There’s a sense of discovery on two levels – this production of Sweeney Todd – an insane and wonderful piece of musical theatre – and meeting the passionate, abiding community that makes community theatre.
As rehearsal wraps up, the movie screen slowly lowers over the stage, clearing the revolving set by just about an inch. Everyone needs to be out and cleaned up to give the theatre time to prepare for the 3 o'clock matinee of Fifty Shades Darker.
You can find information about show times and how to buy tickets here.