Eight Questions with Sweeney Todd Director Jack Holloway
The cast and crew of our Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts production of Sweeney Todd: School Edition have been hard at work rehearsing their exhilarating performance. To find out more about the show, we sat down with Sweeney Todd director and Ruth Eckerd Hall Drama Department Chair, Jack Holloway.
Tell us a little about the show.
The show is a great revenge tale. A barber was wronged by a judge and sent away in prison for fifteen years for a crime he did not commit. In that time, the judge swept in and stole his wife, stole his kid, kind of a little like a Count of Monte Cristo or Zorro. He has escaped from prison, and now he is on a quest for vengeance. And some people get baked into pies along the way. It’s really gross and fun.
How many cast members are there?
We have forty-two students currently involved. It’s a huge cast.
So students are involved on stage and behind-the-scenes, correct?
Yes, we do have students in the show itself, and we even have a few students doing tech. It’s a very tech-heavy show. There’s smoke, special effects, and sudden appearances and disappearances. We had a few students just interested in the technical aspect, but we’ve managed to rope them in on stage, too. The theatre bug hit them, too, so they’re like “Alright, I’ll do a small part.” So that’s pretty cool.
How were the costumes made?
We have an amazing costume team. Myndee Washington, Misty Hornsby—they do amazing work. It’s going to be really cool, sort of a Victorian-esque look. There are going to be all kinds of fun little bells and whistles. They do amazing work, and I have no idea how. I don’t know how to sew a button, so when I see stuff like theirs, I go, “Whoa, that’s magic!”
Explain a little bit about the orchestral aspect behind the show. Who’s involved and who’s directing?
This play is such—the word “epic” gets thrown around a lot, but it’s Sondheim. Stephen Sondheim is one of the most amazing titans of musical theatre. This thing is a beast. There are so many instruments involved in it of every kind. Yohance Wicks, our music director, is handling that. We have a choir down in the pit, we’ve got an orchestra of like twenty, thirty—I may be exaggerating or underplaying—but Yohance has got it. I just saw a huge stack of books of all the different instruments that have to be in this thing.
The film, obviously, portrays this kind of dark and scary feeling. There are some misconceptions that it is a very dark show. Could you elaborate a little on these misconceptions and how we’re bringing it into a family-friendly performance for all ages to enjoy?
I would say the show, depending on the director and the team behind it, can go as dark or as light as you would like it to. It can be very bloody and gross. We’ve chosen not to go that way because we do have students involved, and I think we have found a ton of levity and humor. That’s one of the things. We make jokes at some of the roughest, darkest times of our lives. There are songs that are just plain fun. There are people making puns, there are tons of laughs in this show. I would say it is bring-the-family; you’ll have fun. A little spooky, but nothing worse than you would see at a haunted house at Busch Gardens or something like that. It’s a fun little scary ride.
Do you have a favorite line from the script?
Sweeney brings people into his parlor—bad guys—and he kind of offs them under the guise, like, “I’m going to give you a shave—oh no!” He will always make some kind of pun. He might go, “I’m entirely at your disposal.” Of course, disposal means getting rid of your body. He also does the “I promise to give you the closest shave you’ve ever known.” So he has these really sly, slick one-liners that are very funny, and these bad people don’t know what they’re in for.
Are you Team Lovett or Team Sweeney?
I’ve got to say, I’m Team Sweeney. I always view him as a hero. In the movie, he’s kind of portrayed as this monster right off the bat. Sweeney’s not a bad guy until about the early half of Act II. In the beginning, he’s just an innocent man who was locked away for fifteen years. I think he’s got every right to get back at the judge. He’s totally on course. That’s one of the beautiful things about the play: it’s about losing yourself. Those dangerous journeys of revenge, if you lose the course, you get steered into kind of dark territory. That’s where Sweeney unfortunately finds himself. But Sweeney is such a good character, and he’s so committed and passionate. I don’t want to leave any spoilers, so I’ll stop there.