When the title of a show is “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” the audience has to expect some gore.
“We don't shy away from it,” actor Todd Frymier says. “There will be blood.”
Civic Theatre opens the R-rated musical thriller tonight.
Frymier, who plays the title role, says he was excited to be a part of the show when Civic put it on their schedule. It is a musical he enjoys, so even if he hadn't been cast, he would have been sitting in the audience.
Set in Victorian England, the musical follows Sweeney Todd who returns to London after being imprisoned on false charges. He meets Mrs. Lovett, a widow who owns a meat pie shop, and she tells him that his wife is dead and daughter has been taken in by the judge that sent him away. He vows revenge as Lovett sets him up as a barber in rooms above her shop. Things in Todd's world continue to go awry and he kills his first victim. Lovett comes up with a creative way to dispose of the bodies – let's just say her meat pies become very popular thanks to a new secret ingredient.
Frymier says that turn opens up a new avenue for Todd, providing a range that is great to play. He starts out just wanting revenge on people that have done him wrong, but eventually it grows to all of mankind.
“At that point, now he becomes a whole different type of character than what he was at the beginning of the show, so his drive becomes a little different,” he says. “It's an actor's dream to do something like that.”
Preparing for the show has been a lot of fun, Frymier says. He says he has a great time with Lovett portrayer Amy Ross, who is making her return to the stage after 22 years.
Where Todd is a quiet sort of character, Lovett is a chatterbox. It's a big role to tackle after being away from theater.
“Yeah, I'm onstage a lot,” Ross jokes. “I think I have all the words.”
The last show she did was in 1995. She is a music teacher at South Side High School, which takes up a lot of her time, as did being a mother. But her daughter, now grown, is active in community theater and urged her to get back out there and have some fun.
Ross was drawn to “Sweeney Todd” because she considers Lovett a great role. There is some wiggle room in the character's age, too, which is great to find in a meaty role that is pivotal to the story.
“As an actress, you're either an ingénue or you're the grandmother,” Ross says.
But Lovett is the catalyst for the story. Todd is almost catatonic after returning to society. Lovett convinces him not to waste the opportunity that presents itself, even though that involves committing a multitude of crimes.
“She's absolutely living in a completely delusional world where she thinks that her and Sweeney Todd are going to live happily ever after,” Ross says.
The theme of obsession is key to “Sweeney Todd.” It's something that director and choreographer Leslie Beauchamp has asked the cast to consider while working on the show.
“We all have something we can't let go of and something that drives us to make decisions,” Ross says. Part of the show asks the audience to consider what they would do. Would they trust the person sitting next to them to make the right choices?
“There's a little kernel of this in each of us,” Ross says. “So hopefully when you see the play, you start to think, 'Wow, would I make these choices?'”
If you go
What: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday and Sept. 20 and 21; 2 p.m. Sunday and Sept. 22
Where: Arts United Center, 303 E. Main St.
Admission: Rated R; $33 adults, $28 ages 60 and older, $20 ages 23 and younger; ArtsTix Community Box Office in the Arts United Center, 424-5220 or tickets.artstix.org