Split Stage takes new direction with classic ‘Sweeney Todd’

October 3, 2018
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Vanessa Clarke-Deaver, David Cary (back) and Ryan Borgo rehearse for “Sweeney Todd” to be presented by Split Stage Productions Oct. 5-13 at The Lamp Theatre, Irwin.

There’s a new “Barber” in town.

Split Stage Productions will present an updated version of the classic “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” the 1979 lusciously gruesome musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler.

The original version, set in 19th-century London, tells the tale of Sweeney Todd, a barber who was unjustly sent away and returns to seek vengeance on the evil judge that framed him and had his way with his young wife. When he opens a new barber practice, Todd meets Mrs. Lovett, the owner of a failing pie shop on the floor below him, whose meat pies turn out to be deadly.

Stephen Santa of Pittsburgh has been working on a new concept to modernize the show for more than five years and said his finished work that he will share with Lamp audiences is the culmination of years of thought and research.

Fresh take

“I’m very thankful to Rob (Jessup) and Nate (Newell) for taking a chance on the concept. Split Stage finds its success is producing challenging musicals in a fresh and exciting way and this production certainly fits that mold.” Jessup of Murrysville and Newell of Lower Burrell are co-founders of Split Stage Productions.

While “Sweeney Todd” typically is performed on a grand scale with a very large cast, orchestra and set, Santa’s Split Stage show is very different.

“We’ve left 1800s London and instead our story takes place inside of a psychiatric hospital in the 1950s,” said Santa, who is directing the show. “We see the events take place through the eyes of the hospital patients and many surprises and theatrical tricks are used to tell this story in a unique, intimate, thrilling and very moving way.”

Intimate production

While the musical typically is performed on a grand scale with a large cast, orchestra and set, Santa said his is more of an intimate production with a cast of 17 performers.

“You’ll be shocked by the vocal power of such a small cast,” he said.

“If people aren’t familiar with the musical, they should come experience the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim’s music,” said the director. “Also, this is a very talented cast traveling from all over the Pittsburgh region that you don’t want to miss. It’s a haunting thriller of a musical that is perfect for the season.”

The cast features Brady Patsy as Sweeney Todd, Meighan Lloyd as Mrs. Lovett, with Dan Mayhak, Vanessa Clarke-Deaver, Ryan Borgo, David Cary, Brian Mack Sweeney, Mandie Russak and Hank Fodor. The ensemble includes Gretchen Bluemle, Klara Kricik, Josh Reardon, Caleb Feigles, Elena Falgione, Carmen LoPoresti, Deborah Greenstein and Lyle Hieronymus.

Matt Thomas is music director.

Santa also is the artistic director of Jumping Jack Theater, a children’s production company based in Pittsburgh that creates original works for audiences that benefit from sensory and autism-friendly strategies.

Since 2008 he has served as a teaching artist for the Pittsburgh CLO Creative Vision Program that aims to build self-confidence and model positive behavior for elementary and middle school students while engaging them in musical theater disciplines.

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