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The online student news site of Redondo Union High School

High Tide

The online student news site of Redondo Union High School

High Tide

Creepy Complexity

“Sweeney Todd” brought intricate visuals and themes to the stage as the fall musical.
Photo by Dalilah Almeida

The lights brightened, the applause began to fade and people started to make their way out of the auditorium. The crowd wastes no time immediately diverging into chatter, discussing each scene that had provoked both amazement and shock earlier in the show. Someone can even be heard singing acapella to the main riff of the musical.

“Sweeney Todd” is no stranger to eliciting this type of response, even from non-fans of the musical genre. It tells the story of the titular barber, who returns to his home in London 15 years after being wrongfully imprisoned, hell-bent on revenge on those who killed his wife and stole his daughter. He meets pie maker Mrs. Lovett when he first arrives home, and the two become a murdering-cannibalizing duo. The original short story has transformed into a stage play, a movie and a Tony Award-winning musical, retold time and time again. It was recently interpreted by the RUHS Theatre Arts Department, whose members took a trip to see the Broadway revival last winter break.

“To be honest, I was kind of dreading seeing it. When I heard that it was a three-hour show, I thought it would probably be boring; one of those slow and drawn-out tragedies. But no, it was incredible,” said senior Finn McGonigle, who plays the titular character in the RUHS version. “Once I got the role, I tried to stay away from taking too much from another Sweeney, because I wanted to create my own character. But looking back at Josh Groban (Sweeney Todd actor in the Broadway revival), I got inspired to take the role in a more vocal direction, instead of making it about yelling and anger, like most Sweeneys do.”

One thing about this show that differs from more light-hearted past productions such as “Elf,” is its PG-13 rating. Murder, sexual assault, cannibalism, pedophilia, profanity and a general moody atmosphere are all key points in the play’s plot and music. These dark elements made it “a perfect choice” for an October show, according to Theatre Arts Director and choreographer Melissa Staab. 

“During the intermission of the Broadway version, almost every Redondo student came up to me and asked if we could do Sweeney Todd as our next show,” Staab said. “I thought it was a fun way to kick off the spooky season. It’s a little dark, and a little scary at times, and that’s why we had that PG-13 rating. However, it’s also a comedy and has some funny moments in there too, so I thought it’d be a great fit for our program.”

An impactful decision that differentiated the RUHS version from other productions is how the design of the show leaned into the steampunk aesthetic. The set pieces were adorned with gold and silver gears, and many cast members had the addition of steampunk-esque goggles on top of their already Industrial Revolution-inspired costumes. Special attention was also given to the props: rust was added to a lot of pieces to enhance their neo-Victorian qualities. 

“I did some research on the period, and came out of that with a vision of a lot of gears and metallic elements,” said sophomore Myra Borgic, who led the props team. “We didn’t have a big budget, so we had to be resourceful, using knives, rolling pins, all the things left over from past shows. For the rest of the props we used styrofoam and clay, and hand painted and sculpted everything from the pies to the Pirelli sign. [These details] made the production come to life. Pantomiming things is difficult, so adding small elements like props makes it feel like you’re a little bit more wrapped up in the story the show is trying to tell.”

This presentation of complexity doesn’t just limit itself to the props and set, however. The music itself goes up and down at a fast pace, something that is “quite difficult” to grasp, according to Staab. Not only that, but the character of Sweeney Todd is a complicated one, tragic yet unforgivable, violent yet sympathetic. Settling into that role took “a lot of research,” McGonigle said, and was something the actor had to work at, especially vocally, as this show was the first time he had taken voice lessons for a production. Another first was for Borgic, who was made the leader of the props crew despite never working in the props department before. 

“I think [Staab] knew that I enjoyed leadership roles. And I would say that I’m pretty good at delegation and a dedicated worker, so lead was a really amazing experience to show that off,” Borgic said. “I’m so grateful for everyone who believed in me. It was a really good learning experience in leadership and communication, especially when figuring out how to put multiple different visions together.”

The behind-the-scenes of “Sweeney Todd” had more than just the usual crew contributing ideas, though. Staab brought in chemistry teacher Meagan Chew as a second director. This marks Theatre’s first cross-department collaboration since Jazz Band was featured in “Chicago” in 2022, and the only time Staab has had another teacher join the drama team to help produce a musical.

“We recruited Ms. Chew, and she helped be kind of an assistant director. That was really great because she was there to help me and give a second set of eyes when we looked over all the scenes and the music,” Staab said. “She was a great person to work with, and helped me stay stress-free. So I hope we can have more shows with that type of partnership in the future.”

The production had about six weeks to come together, with rehearsals starting before the school year began. Though the theatre department’s fast-paced production has never failed to present a complete musical on opening night, it can be quite a stressful experience come tech week and final dress rehearsals. To balance this, the “Sweeney Todd” crew put a big emphasis on collaboration.

“This show was the first time that I felt really proud of myself after an opening night, and it was because we had such a great support system for Sweeney. Ms. Staab, Mr. Orbison, Ms. Chew; all the people behind the scenes gave me so much validation and good feedback,” McGonigle said. “Ensemble did a great job working off me and working off each other, and that community aspect was easily the best and most important part of the show.” 

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About the Contributor
Claudia Turner
Claudia Turner, Entertainment Editor
Autistic girl with multiple media hyper-fixations, becomes an entertainment editor - no one is surprised.

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