News Column

Challenging 'Sweeney Todd' creepy without the gore

October 24, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 24--Roy Campbell is working for the first time with Falmouth Theatre Guild this fall, but it's on a show with which he's had a lot of experience: "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

A creepy tale that fits well with the Halloween season, the Stephen Sondheim musical is about a murderous barber whose victims are baked into pies by his landlady. Campbell got to know the show before Broadway fans did: Campbell -- who plays trombone, including as principal trombonist for Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, and piano -- worked in the orchestra in the late 1970s when the show starring Angela Lansbury played in Boston before going to Broadway. He says he was again in the pit several years later when the Broadway hit came back to Boston on tour.

He considers "Sweeney Todd" one the most challenging shows he's worked on in a long and varied career. Campbell's resume includes working as trombonist for Boston Opera Company, L.A. Opera a la Carte's New England tours, some pops concerts with Boston Symphony Orchestra and at the Shubert and Wang theaters in Boston. He was house trombonist for the Colonial Theatre, South Shore Music Circus and Cape Cod Melody Tent. He has taught at Brown University, Norwood High School and South Shore Conservatory, and currently teaches at Bridgewater State University.

His local directing credits include shows at Monomoy Theatre in Chatham and Harwich Junior Theatre, and he has been conductor and director of bands at Bridgewater State. His current teaching work at Cape Cod Conservatory connected him to Falmouth Theatre Guild when Stephanie Weaver, managing director at the conservatory, was unable to work on the show and asked whether he could take it on.

Campbell says "Sweeney Todd" is particularly challenging for actors, and he's been impressed during this first time in Falmouth that the community theater group would take on something so difficult. He praises director Joan Baird and the actors for being able to accomplish all they have in the shortened rehearsal time his schedule has necessitated.

He described the Sondheim work as among "the most aggressive ... orchestrally" of any musicals he's worked on, and notes that the score doesn't include melodies to keep the singers on track, supplying largely "just texture ... and no help for singers." As a result, preparation has required rehearsing a piece by rote more than most musicals and a lot of homework for the performers.

Campbell and others involved with the guild's "Sweeney Todd" are worried more people are familiar with the Johnny Depp movie version of this story, which is different in several ways from the stage version. Campbell hasn't seen the movie, but notes that telling this story on stage involves suggesting more of the gruesome happenings without the visual gore. "This is a show with great acting, and a great story line, without going into the cheap sell," he says.

The film interpretation "loses all of the humor and musical complexity of the original show" and eliminates ensemble numbers and the key character of the homeless woman, adds company publicist Rob Bowerman in an email. "We are focusing less on the 'gore' and more on the richness of the story, characters and music."

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Cape Rep's annual fall fundraising show is taking a spooky theme this year, with the one-weekend benefit dubbed "Footlight Fantasies Goes Halloween." Actors from past shows and from the community will gather for an event with music, costumes and what Cape Rep describes as "Halloween cheer."

The benefit -- created by Melissa Becker and Susan Wasson and directed by Becker -- continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the group's Indoor Theatre, 3299 Route 6A, Brewster. Tickets are $23, with refreshments and a "mad scientist" cash bar. Reservations: 508-896-1888 or www.caperep.org.

Among the performers: Art Devine, Julie Allen Hamilton, Jessica Albon, Caitlin Mills, Bob and Sally Tucker, Dawn Lee Laub of the Animal Rescue League of Brewster, retired Brewster Elementary School teacher Joan Sutton and Nan Watts Seamen's Bank.

For more theater news, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor and follow KathiSDCC on Twitter.

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

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