'Demon Barber of Fleet Street' to terrorize PAC

This weekend at the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center, Mercyhurst students, faculty and staff will present their representation of the Steven Sondheim musical “Sweeney Todd.”

Performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 18, at 2 p.m.

Unlike musicals produced at Mercyhurst in the past few years, this show is not a mainly student-run affair. Erie Playhouse veteran David Matthews, who oversaw the Mercyhurst student-run production of “Sweet Charity” last year, is directing this concert version of “Sweeney Todd.”

Senior Kayla Nash has been acting as producer for the show, junior Claire Hinde has assisted with staging and junior Lauren Haines is conducting the orchestra. Andrew Rainbow, formerly of Erie, will be returning from New York City to be the pianist for the performance. Sophomore Chad Bonifazi will appear as Sweeney Todd, with Jessica Provenzano, a 2007 graduate who now works in Mercyhurst’s Residence Life Department, as Mrs. Lovett.

Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” tells the story of the “demon barber of Fleet Street,” a brooding and unforgiving barber who uses his blade to take revenge for previous wrongs done against him and his family, killing many who enter his barber shop for a shave. He and the equally twisted Mrs. Lovett then use the meat from the dead corpses to create meat pies to sell in Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop, since “business needs a lift.” The Broadway show first opened in 1979 and has since seen many reinterpretations, including the Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd.

“David chose ‘Sweeney Todd’ because it’s one of his favorite musicals – he loves Stephen Sondheim’s work. It’s also a very difficult show with an interesting concept,” Eleanor Logan, Matthews’s assistant, said.

Matthews’s association with the Erie Playhouse has been helpful to the production, as “Sweeney Todd” was performed at the Playhouse several years ago. The set platforms for the show have been borrowed from the Playhouse, as well as costumes and wigs.

As Logan describes it, “Sweeney Todd” is really “more like an opera” than a typical musical, as there is little unsung dialogue. In the concert version that the Mercyhurst performers will be presenting, the chorus members are also often seated in the back. Logan explains, however, that “They are not just stuck in the back the whole time. The chorus moves back and forth throughout the show, and some of the chorus members have small solos.”

“Sweeney Todd” features a strong cast of both music and non-music majors and even some Mercyhurst faculty and staff. Logan said, “Everything is going great, and we have an amazing cast. The voices are phenomenal, and everyone has been taking direction very well.”

Although there is still much work to be done before opening night, Logan and the others seem confident that they will present an excellent show.

Tickets for “Sweeney Todd” are just $1 with a valid Mercyhurst ID and can be purchased at the PAC box office or by calling 814-824-3000.