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Sweeney Todd – the Director’s Preview

Director Lee Ridgeway introduces his ambitious production of the Sondheim musical, which opens on Friday 22 November.

Of all the Sondheim shows, why Sweeney Todd?

Stephen Sondheim is one of the all-time greats when it comes to composers and lyricists of musical theatre. It’s one of my two favourites, the other being Into the Woods. I love the dark and macabre shows especially; as a director you can really leave your stamp. When re-reading the script for Sweeney I found it very fluid, and instantly had lots of ideas on how I could stage it at SLT. I first approached Alan Walker (Musical Director) and Kelly-Kim Cranstoun (Choreographer), and they agreed to join me in the potential project. The rest, as they say, is history.

This isn’t the first musical you’ve directed – how do you approach the task?

It’s important to have a solid and trustworthy creative team around me. This is my second musical working with Alan, and my sixth production with Kelly-Kim. During the process we discuss issues from casting to production, as well as how we want the show to both look and sound. It’s really important when you direct any show that you plan well for it and keep communication with your crew and cast as fluid and frequent as possible. I’ve found through experience, especially with musicals, that aspects of the production could literally change on an hourly basis. It’s important that these changes are communicated as early as possible in order to continue moving with the production.

What are the particular challenges you’ve faced in directing this particular show?

It is an ambitious piece. The music is technically complex in terms of tune and rhythm, and there’s often little obvious relationship between the accompaniment and what the actors are singing. We’re fortunate to have been able to start the ground work in July and build up over the summer before the formal rehearsal period began. The cast have been superbly dedicated in their learning and practice throughout. This has been fun, as well as hard work. As so often the case, the more effortless it looks in performance, the more work has been put in to get it to that point.

No spoilers of course, but for anyone not familiar with this piece, what can the audience expect?

Sweeney Todd is an all-time classic and I think because of the film (which I really disliked, incidentally) it’s even more well known. I would ask prospective audience members not to be swayed by any preconceptions from the film. I think our production will be a cracker.

 

Sweeney Todd – the Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs Friday 22 – Saturday 23 and Tuesday 26 – Sat 30 November at the Old Fire Station. Tickets for this show are already sold out, but it may be worth coming along to the theatre on the night for possible returns.

Rehearsal images by Jennifer Bingham