OGDEN -- Looking for a pie or a shave? You'd best avoid a certain Fleet Street establishment run by one Mrs. Lovett and a fellow formerly known as Benjamin Barker.
But if you're looking for an engrossing musical thriller, look no further than "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." A production of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece opens Thursday, April 26, at the DaVinci Academy in Ogden. The show is also performed April 27, 28 and 30.
Theater director Adam Slee said that, as far as he knows, this is the first time a Utah high school has staged the bloody tale about a barber who seeks revenge on a corrupt judge who imprisoned him on trumped-up charges, raped his wife and raised his daughter as his ward.
When Benjamin Barker returns from exile, he assumes the identity of Sweeney Todd and seeks revenge on the judge, and all others who get in his way. The barber with the deadly razors is assisted in his murderous endeavors by pie-shop owner Mrs. Lovett. The crafty piemaker is desperately in love with Todd, but also sees an entrepreneurial opportunity to bolster her sagging business by turning Todd's victims into meat pies.
The DaVinci production will be staged in the performance area on the third floor of the academy, located in the historic American Can Company building in downtown Ogden. Slee said the building's architecture provides a perfect setting for the story, set in 1846 London.
His production crew has blacked out the large factory windows where the show is being performed, Slee said. The set takes a cue from a lyric in the "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," which opens the show: "Sweeney pondered and Sweeney planned, like a perfect machine he planned, Sweeney was smooth, Sweeney was subtle, Sweeney would blink, and rats would scuttle."
"We've created a whole set to look like machines," Slee said. "We focus on those aspects of how Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett use the people around them to create their machines and to create this false truth. She wants to get Sweeney to love her and Sweeney wants revenge ... It's about people manipulating each other to get the things that they want."
"Sweeney Todd" not only showcases Sondheim's gift for crafting lyric and music into wickedly humorous songs such as "A Little Priest," but also includes some of his most soaring ballads and duets, including "Pretty Women," "Johanna" and "Not While I'm Around."
Slee said the production has been a wonderful opportunity for the academy's students to be involved in a musical of such renown in the world of musical theater. His cast of 45 has been rehearsing the show for several months, and he has been impressed by the level of talent among the students, who have risen to the task of tackling the meaty roles and challenging music.
The show is double-cast and includes Daniel Amsel (11th grade) and Aaron Wharton (12th grade) as Sweeney Todd and Violet Taylor (10th grade) and Natalie Finnamore (eighth grade) as Mrs. Lovett.
During the rehearsal process, Slee and his cast have been able sit down, take a look at the show and apply some real-life lessons. The musical, he said, teaches valuable lessons about the consequences of making both positive and negative choices.
"All the choices that you make will affect your outcome, and that becomes a good teaching tool," Slee said.