Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Fog billowed across the stage, awash in blue light. Eerie lanterns hung; their warm flicker juxtaposed against the deep, unending darkness that enveloped them. A coffin loomed forebodingly in the haze, silently promising the things to come. Ladies and gentlemen, you best keep your chins tucked tonight. The demon barber is on the prowl in West Springfield High School’s macabre production of "Sweeney Todd: School Edition." There will be blood.
First appearing in a nineteenth-century penny dreadful, Sweeney Todd graced the stage in 1970 in a play by Christopher Bond, which then inspired the popular 1979 Tony-Award winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. Center stage is Sweeney Todd, who, having escaped his unjust imprisonment, returns to London to find his wife dead and his daughter captive. Will he succeed in rescuing his daughter? Or will his methods lead to madness?
Never shying from the musical’s grotesque nature, the cast maintained an intense focus and dedicated vigor. The ensemble’s stiff, unified movements and stoic, gaunt-eyed glare when speaking directly to the audience artfully contrasted with their crazed, chaotic descent into madness--growling, giggling, screeching, and snarling as they tore through the theater aisles at the peak of Act II. Combined with haunting, booming vocals and striking lighting, this resulted in an enthralling, petrifying performance.
Christopher Seeger stole the show, portraying Sweeney Todd with harsh vehemence and fierce passion. His gruff voice, mournful baritone, and slow, purposeful movements gave the impression of one much older and more burdened, and his set shoulders and erect posture when displaying the serious, reserved Sweeney made his transition to desperate insanity all the more poignant--collapsing to the ground and swinging his razor wildly when Judge Turpin (Jack Furman) first escaped his grasp. Most impressive perhaps was how he and Kaylee Wisner as Mrs. Lovett, an unlikely pairing due to her brash nature and his grave manner, complemented each other so well, building up a comfortable, humorous rapport that shone through in songs such as "A Little Priest." Wisner herself reveled in her role, whether serving her man-made pies or plunking away at the piano, she exhibited an exuberant mirth and morbid glee, skillfully displaying both a ludicrous lightheartedness and murderous derangement lying underneath the surface.
In a musical of murder, morbidity, and gruesome horrors, Max Gerstenberg as Tobias Ragg illuminated the stage with childlike innocence and courage. His quick, eager movements, in addition to his naïve bravery and nervous, hopeful vocals in the song "Not While I’m Around" made his own final spiral into madness heart-wrenching to witness.
The horrifying aura and eerie ambiance of the musical wouldn't have been possible without the efforts of Rakeb Yihunie, Zachary Kearny, and The Sweeney Lighting Team. The sharp contrast between the ominous, ghoulish wash of blue light that occupied the more quiet, foreboding moments and the stark red and orange light that spiked with each murder emphasized shock and terror throughout. A single spotlight drawn in on essential characters added to the focused intensity of the show. A masterful use of silhouettes was demonstrated with the combined talent of special effects (Christopher Seeger and Peyton Morales), particularly in regard to Fogg’s Asylum. A backlit sheet displayed the shadows of actors writhing and wailing behind it, offering a unique, ghastly take on this scene that otherwise may not have been as shocking or frightful.
Horrific, gruesome, depraved, and haunting. West Springfield proves that evidently, these are the characteristics of a breathtaking and awe-inspiring show. The all-around ingenuity made this musical a resounding success, reminding us that the good never prosper, and madness always prevails.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
A barbershop. A grotesque twist on meat pie. And most importantly: a deep desire for revenge. Haunting voices and a foreboding atmosphere combined at West Springfield High School to tell the terrifying story of Sweeney Todd’s return to Fleet Street.
A 1979 Tony-Award winner, Stephen Sondheim’s "Sweeney Todd" is based on a century of adaptation from stories originally written in 1846. As Sweeney Todd, a skillful barber, returns to his old home after wrongful exile, he finds that all that he loved has disappeared. With the help of Mrs. Lovett, pie-baker extraordinaire, and his special set of razors, Sweeney Todd begins to execute the perfect juicy plan.
Playing Sweeney Todd, Christopher Seeger complemented Kaylee Wisner’s Mrs. Lovett excellently, showing two characters of drastically different personalities choosing an evil path together. Seeger used a strict, tense posture throughout the show, with purposeful arm movements to show emphasis. In the song “No Place Like London,” Seeger’s arms were held rigidly at his side until he reached out with heartfelt sorrow as he described his long-lost daughter. Meanwhile, Wisner’s bouncing, cheerful movements, despite her twisted plans, added demented humor, especially as she danced around Sweeney and suggested how to eliminate evidence of his murders. The juxtaposition between the two was further shown through the actors’ voices–-while Seeger’s deep, punctuating voice resounded, Wisner had a girlish laugh and bright, lilting voice. The stark duality of Seeger and Wisner’s voices was especially poignant in “A Little Priest,” while they crafted their horrific plan together. As the two descended deeper into depravity, Wisner became more reserved, but Seeger’s actions became more unpredictable and flaring, a contrast which showed how the two characters’ intertwining actions had influenced each other.
Caroline Heyerdahl, as the Beggar Woman, had sharp vocals and an aggressive physical intensity that brought desperation to the imposing, witch-like character. As she pleaded for help from those around her, her voice was clear and strong, which offered a crisp contrast to her shouting, broken cries as she gripped others on the shoulder when they refused.
The rattling ensemble used movements and togetherness to portray the world around them as the story continued. The group opened the show with echoing, rich vocals and unified, intense stares in the opening ballad, establishing an ominous tone from the start. As the world of Sweeney Todd became more deranged, the ensemble broke into chaos with rattling screams as they crept and flailed through the audience in “City on Fire!" Their movements returned to being stiff yet ghostly in the closing ballad, as they issued a collective warning with resignation and piercing glares.
The lighting design (Rakeb Yihunie, Zachary Kearny, and The Sweeney Lighting Team) illuminated specific characters while maintaining a shadowy environment, adding to the dark nature of the show, while special effects by Christopher Seeger and Peyton Morales added to the sense of imminent danger. As fog clouded the deep blue-and-purple-shrouded stage, beams of green-tinted light cut through to highlight the actors’ ghastly facial expressions, most notably in “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” Later, harsh red lights began to foreshadow danger and add emphasis to dramatic deaths, while simultaneous deep red fabrics representing blood slowly pulled out of costume collars added suspense and fear to each drawn-out murder.
West Springfield High School brought a story of death and destruction to life in their production of "Sweeney Todd: School Edition," exemplifying the irreversible impact of revenge and the dire consequences of secrecy.