Sweeney Todd: Introducing the Fall Musical Principals

Periwig’s annual production of the Fall Musical never fails to impress the School community.

Periwig’s annual production of the Fall Musical never fails to impress the School community. From the audience’s perspective, the exquisiteness of the set, costumes, and professional-level acting may seem effortless, but the dedication and diligence required from these student performers can lead to both hectic and physically demanding schedules. Despite these circumstances, one aspect remains a positive force within this community of performers: family.

Unlike a typical high school production, this year’s musical choice is rather challenging in many ways, from both a musical and theatrical standpoint. For the lead performers of the show, V Formers Cate Levy, Nick Winkler, Lana Utley, Isabel Sweeney, Deven Kinney, Giao Vu Dinh, Robert Smith, and Casey Rogerson, this opportunity has allowed them to overcome these obstacles together, while developing their friendships with one another.

Winkler, who will be playing the lead role of Sweeney Todd, sees the show as a “junior opera, because it’s way harder than any of the [cast members] expected it to be.” Typically, musical numbers and dialogue scenes are separated in many musicals; however, in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the leads have to accomplish all three components simultaneously. In addition, the rhythm of the songs has been a difficult task to fully master; hence, many of these soloists spend an average of three to four hours a day practicing their music. Yet, because of these challenges, supporting lead performer Kinney—who will be playing the Beadle—expressed that his friendships with many of his peers have “definitely grown.” He “uses the musical as an opportunity to laugh and get closer to other people,” which has been especially helpful during the Fall Term of his V Form year.

“Although the musical adds stress, it also removes some stress by taking my mind off of serious things such as college applications and schoolwork,” Kinney said.

While some have developed new relationships, others have leaned on past ones. Winkler appreciates his friendship with Levy, his counterpart in the show, because “she has made the process so much easier.” Their friendship has provided both performers the opportunity to depend on one another both on and off stage. Utley and Rogerson’s experience is similar to that of Winkler and Levy’s; the two performers will be playing the characters of Johanna and Anthony Hope, respectively. Since their roles are intertwined, they often practice songs together and prepare alongside one another before rehearsals. To Utley, her real-life relationship with Rogerson also plays an important factor in her performance, because their “friendship transmits to easy chemistry on stage”—they are often known as the “giggle twins.”

Being a part of the show has not only strengthened the performers’ connections with one another, but it has also enriched their understanding of acting. There are many ways in which the students can interpret and portray the story’s complex characters, and over the course of this month, the lead performers were given the chance to further explore the intricate aspects of their roles.

A dark yet intricately written musical, Sweeney Todd presents a multi-dimensioned aspect of humanity and features a complex story that takes the audience on an inseparable journey. On the surface, the musical is filled with gore, but underneath the facade of these supposedly evil characters is a sense of truth and humanity that exists within each of these individuals. For Levy, she enjoys “playing an evil role that’s multifaceted.” Although “Mrs. Lovett may seem like a psychopath, she is actually a really sad person [who] wants to be loved and taken care of.” Levy believes that it’s always important to “find some similarities [with her character] so that [she] can feel emotionally connected, because [she’s] really embodying that person on stage.”

Similarly, Winkler “doesn’t see Todd as a mass murderer, because he doesn’t kill for the sake of killing—there’s a meaning behind his actions.” After many rehearsals, he realized that his portrayal of Todd becomes more authentic when he steps into the character’s shoes. To Winkler, “there’s a certain point when you go from just saying the lines in a voice that sounds like the character to a point where the actions you are taking and your facial expressions are driven by your view of the character,” allowing him to really interpret the ‘human’ in his role and the motivation behind Todd’s sporadic behaviors.

Utley’s experience parallels that of her fellow cast members. According to Utley, on the surface, Johanna may “seem like the damsel in distress, but as the play progresses, her rebellious nature” emerges—a nuanced role that she’s enjoyed playing the part of. Similarly, Sweeney, who will be playing the Beggar Woman, also acknowledged that it was “hard to get into character at first because [she] couldn’t really relate to [the woman] as much, but it’s been a fun journey trying to find the human in her.” Sweeney’s musical experience provided her with the opportunity to showcase “the pumping blood” of her character in a multidimensional way.

The preparation process for these roles has not only required extensive research prior to preseason, but the lead performers have also had to develop their own interpretations of the characters in order to represent them authentically. Dinh, who will be playing the young boy Tobias Ragg, did a considerable amount of close reading of the text and watched many professional portrayals in order to “come up with [her] own understanding of him that felt unique yet true to the character at the same time.” The musical provided her with the space to step outside her comfort zone and learn how to play a character with many emotional states. Considering that this is her first time performing a major role in a full-length production, Dinh is thankful to have her castmates and teachers guide her through the process. Expressing similar sentiments, Rogerson believes that, without a doubt, “the cast and crew of this show have been the best part of the musical. They are not only some of the funniest and kindest people, but also the most ridiculously talented.”

As these performers enter the last stretch of the process, not only will they cherish this experience as their final musical at Lawrenceville, but hopefully, the audience’s support and adulation will make Sweeney Todd all the more memorable for them.

Periwig’s annual production of the Fall Musical never fails to impress the School community. From the audience’s perspective, the exquisiteness of the set, costumes, and professional-level acting may seem effortless, but the dedication and diligence required from these student performers can sometimes be hectic and physically demanding. Despite these circumstances, one aspect seems to remain a positive force within this community of performers: family. Unlike a typical High School production, this year’s musical choice is rather challenging in many ways, whether it be musically or theatrically. As the lead performers of the show, V Formers Cate Levy ’20, Nick Winkler ’20, Lana Utley ’20, Isabel Sweeney ’20, Deven Kinney ’20, Giao Vu Dinh ’20, Robert Smith ’20, and Casey Rogerson ’20, this opportunity has served as a way for them to overcome these obstacles together, heightening their friendships. Winkler, who will be playing the lead role of Sweeney Todd, sees the show as a “junior opera, because it’s way harder than any of the [cast] expected it to be.” Typically, musical numbers and dialogue scenes are separated in many musicals; however, in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the leads have to accomplish both components simultaneously. In addition, the rhythm of the songs has also served as a difficult task to fully master; hence, many of these soloists spend an average of three to four hours daily practicing their music. Yet because of these challenges, supporting lead performer Kinney—who will be playing the Beadle—expressed that his friendships with many of his peers have “definitely grown. [He] uses the musical as an opportunity to laugh and get closer to other people,” which has been especially helpful during the fall term of his Senior year because, “although the musical adds stress, it also removes some stress by taking [his] mind off of serious things such as college applications and schoolwork.” While some have developed new relationships, others have leaned on past ones. Winkler is “grateful that [he’s] such good friends with [Levy, his counterpart in the show,] because she has made the process so much easier.” From one duo’s dynamic relationship to another’s, Utley and Rogerson’s experience is similar to that of Winkler and Levy’s; the two performers will be playing the characters of Johanna and Anthony Hope respectively. Since both of their roles are intertwined, they often practice songs together and prepare alongside one another before rehearsals. To Utley, her real-life relationship with Rogerson also plays an important factor in her performance, because their “friendship transmits to easy chemistry on stage”—they are often known as the “giggle twins.” Nevertheless, friendships weren’t the only aspects of the musical that developed over time. Being a part of the show not only strengthened the performers’ connections with one another, but also enriched their understanding of acting. There are many ways in which the students can interpret and portray the story’s complex characters, and over the course of the month, the lead performers were given the chance to further explore the intricate aspects of their roles. A dark yet elaborately written musical, Sweeney Todd presents a multi-dimensional aspect of human nature. While on the surface, the musical appears simply as a form of black comedy, underneath the facade of the gore and supposedly evil characters is an unseen level of depth and compassion. For Levy, she enjoys “playing an evil role that’s multi-faceted.” Although “Mrs. Lovett may seem like a psychopath, she is actually a really sad person [who] wants to be loved and taken care of.” Levy believes that it’s always important to “find some similarities [with her character] so that [she] can feel emotionally connected, because [she’s] really embodying that person on stage.” In a similar limelight, Winkler sees Todd as a goal-oriented and driven man. After many trials, he realized that his portrayal of Todd becomes more authentic when he steps into the character’s shoes: “there’s a certain point when you go from just saying the lines…to a point where the actions you are taking and your facial expressions are driven by your view of the character.” The preparation process for these roles required extensive research prior to pre-season. Dinh, who will be playing the young boy Tobias Ragg, did a considerable amount of close reading of the text and watched many professional portrayals in order to “come up with [her] own understanding of him that felt unique yet true to the character at the same time.” Considering that this is her first time performing a major role in a full-length production, Dinh is thankful to have her castmates and teachers guide her through the process. Expressing similar sentiments, Rogerson believes unequivocally that, “the cast and crew of this show have been the best part of the musical. They are not only some of the funniest and kindest people, but also the most ridiculously talented.” As these performers enter the last stretch of the process, not only will they cherish this experience as their final musical at Lawrenceville, but hopefully, the audience’s support and adulation will make Sweeney Todd all the more memorable for them.

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