UW-Marinette’s Theatre on the Bay (TOB) kicks off Season 51 on July 14, starting a “Season of Intrigue” with the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical thriller Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Combining horror with black comedy, social commentary and a poignant love story, this musical is shocking, brutally funny and intensely moving. It is regarded as one of the great creations of the 20th-century theatre.
When Benjamin Barker, using the alias ‘Sweeney Todd,’ returns to the teeming slums of London after 15 years’ exile for a crime he didn’t commit, he finds his wife Lucy has killed herself after being raped by the brutal judge who sentenced Barker to exile. Tormented by unbearable grief, and driven to kill by the compulsion to avenge this terrible wrong, Todd (played by James Porras II) sets up as a barber and plots the murder of Judge Turpin (John Thornberry) and Turpin’s loyal assistant, Beadle Bamford (Tristan Schuh).
Anthony (Anthony LaMalfa), a young sailor who rescued Sweeney at sea, falls in love at first sight with the beautiful Johanna (Laker Anne Thrasher, in her TOB debut). A beggar woman (Brittany Welch) warns Anthony that Johanna is Judge Turpin’s ward. Turpin lusts after Johanna and plans to marry her. Beadle Bamford threatens Anthony, and Turpin locks Johanna away in an insane asylum run by Jonas Fogg (Gary Pansch) to keep the two lovers apart.
Todd uses an appearance by rival barber Adolfo Pirelli (Johanna Zuehls) to promote his new business to lure both Bamford and Turpin to his shop. Tobias Ragg (Chase Grabowski) grows tired of Pirelli’s abuse and goes to work for Mrs. Lovett (Lisa Atkinson-LeBoeuf) instead. Little by little, Toby discovers all of Todd’s and Lovett’s secrets, including what happens to all the bodies of Sweeney’s victims beneath Mrs. Lovett’s suddenly successful pie shop.
The ensemble for Sweeney Todd includes both returning actors and several making their TOB debuts: Jackie Baxter, Carly Beyer, Wesley Beyer, Ashley Burley, Brandon Byng, McKenna Carvenough, Alyssa Carviou, Autumn Clement, Michaela Kaiser, Leah LaMalfa, Lydia LeBoeuf, Karah Nelson, Lily Pomplun and Kenan Pulver.
John Thornberry will direct Sweeney Todd, assisted by James Porras II. Thornberry will also design sets and sound, while Porras and Brittany Welch are the production’s musical co-directors. Lighting design is by Chris Weber, and costume design is by Annalisa Mines. Marie Arnold and Jared Thomson are the production’s stage managers. Rebecca Stone Thornberry, artistic director of Theatre on the Bay, is producing the musical.
Performances of Sweeney Todd begin on July 14. The show runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 23. Tickets are available online for Sweeney Todd and the entire 51st season of TOB, as well as for UW-Marinette Children’s Theatre at marinette.uwc.edu/theatre. Patrons may also call 715-735-4300, ext. 4301, or purchase tickets one hour before each performance at the lobby box office. Tickets for Sweeney Todd are $16 for adults and $12 for students. All performances take place on the Nancy Gehrke stage at the Herbert L. Williams Theatre, in the Fine Arts Building at UW-Marinette, 750 W. Bay Shore St.
Note: Sweeney Todd includes mature themes and is best for ages 14 and older