Spotlight Youth Theatre Artistic Director Kenny Grossman chose “Sweeney Todd: School Edition” for the current season to challenge his young actors.
“We’ve never done a Sondheim show before, and this is some great material for our older kids to get involved with,” Grossman said. “It’s important for us to have something for everyone, and we’re not the type to shy away from material like this.”
“Sweeney Todd,” which opens Friday at Spotlight, tells the story of a man who returns home to find his wife poisoned herself after being raped by a judge.
Sweeney Todd vows revenge on the judge. He teams up with a pie maker, Mrs. Lovett, to open a barbershop, where he slits the throats of customers and she bakes them in pies.
Grossman, who directs the show, said the school edition of “Sweeney Todd” is abbreviated because of the songs but doesn’t censor the violence.
But he stressed that the Broadway musical is different from Tim Burton’s film version with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
“The actual play is more about this tortured soul than the blood, even though it exists,” he said.
The original Broadway production debuted in 1979 with Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett and won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Since then, there have been several revivals of the musical and the 2007 movie.
Even though it’s tough material, Grossman said the actors, ages 14 to 19, are doing a great job bringing the characters to life.
Tyler Gasper, 19, an Ironwood High School graduate, portrays Sweeney Todd and couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into the role.
Gasper, who performed the show as an ensemble member at Theater Works in 2009, said he auditioned for a different role but landed the lead.
“It was a pleasant surprise for me and such a big challenge, but I was up for it,” he said. “This musical has one of the best-written scores ever.”
Jamie Grossman, who portrays Mrs. Lovett, agreed with Gasper.
“I think the music is so beautiful, so I couldn’t wait to sing this stuff,” she said. “Even though it’s a blood bath of a story, there also are light moments as well.”
Kenny Grossman said the story might seem grim, but the musical is considered a dark comedy.
“There are light moments to the show, even though you wouldn’t think of it,” Grossman said. “But parental guidance is still suggested because it’s not for very young kids, but the older ones and grown-ups will appreciate it.”
Gasper also feels the same way as Grossman.
“It’s a grim idea of putting people in pies, but that’s what makes it kind of humorous,” he said. “It’s a show that can be appreciated nowadays.”