When the North Riverside Players selected “Sweeney Todd” as its spring 2020 musical, never did the troupe imagine it would take two years for the show to see the light of day.
Twenty-four months after originally planned to open for audiences, their production of “Sweeney Todd” is finally set to debut May 5.
A dark, witty musical filled with love, murder and revenge, “Sweeney Todd” tells the story of Todd, a barber who assumes a new alias to resume working above Mrs. Lovett’s struggling pie shop after being wrongfully sentenced to life in jail by a corrupt judge.
But after swearing vengeance against the judge who altered his life forever, Todd and Lovett scheme together to develop a plan which will play to both of their advantages — and lead them down a dangerous path with deadly consequences.
Coincidentally, the Players’ production is an homage of sorts — Stephen Sondheim, the writer and lyricist of “Sweeney Todd,” died last November at age 91.
Often considered Sondheim’s masterpiece, “Sweeney Todd” made its Broadway debut in 1979, earning rave reviews and numerous Tony Awards including best musical, best direction, best original score and best musical book.
“Sondheim’s music is complex; he sort of reinvented the American musical,” said Al Meyer, president of the North Riverside Players. “Rogers and Hammerstein had a certain kind of flavor to them, but when Sondheim wrote, he turned things up a whole other notch in terms of the music. The songs are challenging to sing, the music is challenging to play and he does all kinds of interesting things musically.”
Meyer says the majority of those cast for the show in 2020 were able to return to see “Sweeney Todd” finally come to life.
“We have a very talented cast, and the orchestra has done many more rehearsals than they usually do because they understood the challenge,” Meyer said. “While it’s sort of a dark tale, it’s beautifully told. The music, the lyrics — it’ll capture audiences and take them along for the ride.”
The North Riverside Players’ have been bringing high-quality theatrical productions to local audiences on a modest budget for 30 years, and “Sweeney Todd” director Jay Fontanetta encouraged theatergoers to return for an evening of entertainment.
“A two-story set, a trap door, two large stage extensions, original costumes and a very stylized concept make this show unlike anything the North Riverside Players has ever done,” he said. “[With Sondheim’s] passing last year, it’s almost an honor to him that this is our first big show after the last two years.”
Performing as Sweeney Todd is Danny Parrott from Arlington Heights. In his first Players production, he’s excited to act in what he has considered a dream role.
“The music, the story and the dark comedy make it a theater experience like no other,” he said. “As a bonus, the cast and tech team for this production are a wonderful collection of talented people. Each character is perfectly cast in their roles and an absolute joy to work with.”
Back in her sixth production is Portage Park resident Meaghan Hurley, performing as Mrs. Lovitt.
“It’s such an iconic role, played by the likes of Angela Lansbury and Patti Lupone,” Hurley said. “While it’s been challenging, it’s also been an incredible learning experience.”
“Sweeney Todd” plays at the North Riverside Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave., Thursday, May 5 through Sunday, May 7 and Friday, May 13 through Sunday, May 15. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. except for the May 7 matinee at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors over 60 and $18 for students.
The North Riverside Players recommends the show for mature audiences, as “Sweeney Todd” contains scenes of violence.
Tickets can be ordered via phone at 708-512-7015 or at nrplayers.com.