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Wheaton Drama to tackle award-winning epic 'Sweeney Todd'

Director Randy Knott (from left), David Pfenninger (playing the title role in "Sweeney Todd") and Sara Malloy (Mrs. Lovett, the pie baker) work through a scene while the cast looks on.
Director Randy Knott (from left), David Pfenninger (playing the title role in "Sweeney Todd") and Sara Malloy (Mrs. Lovett, the pie baker) work through a scene while the cast looks on.

WHEATON – “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” will be presented May 24 to June 16 by Wheaton Drama.

The award-winning show, featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, has cast and crew working to navigate the extremely difficult musical, a news release stated.

“Sweeney Todd” tells the story of barber Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, as he attempts revenge against his archenemy for the murder of his wife, Lucy. Todd is assisted by a cheerful and amoral pie shop owner, Mrs. Lovett. As he opens his shop up above Mrs. Lovett’s store, he gets caught between the destined love between his daughter, Johanna, and a naive sailor, Anthony.

The troupe shares a Q&A session with the show’s director, Randy Knott.

WD: What drew you to direct ‘Sweeney?’

Randy Knott: Boy. I guess I’d ask, ‘What didn’t?’ The music is amazing – challenging, yet satisfying to the ear. The story is as old as stories themselves. I love the ambiguity of who the bad guy is, and I love the idea that all of us, if we look into our hearts, probably are capable of the atrocities that are committed in the show. We certainly, through the play, find ourselves capable of cheering for the guy committing them. That, I find delicious. My favorite villain in film is Michael Corleone because his bend toward evil is a choice. [‘Todd’] lets us see that, also.

WD: Is there something you hope audiences will be able to learn from watching ‘Sweeney?’

Knott: I always hope that any show I direct allows the audience to find some part of themselves during the evening. Even the comedies. This show, I believe, really looks at things like class, revenge, love, ambition, opportunism, injustice and abuse of power. In some ways, it’s an incredibly timely piece. In some ways, it always will be.

WD: What is a piece of advice you give to your actors as they prepare for this difficult and exhausting piece of musical theater history?

Knott: I want them always to be honest to the moment. Because this show has so much theatricality, so much singing, so much beauty … it is easy to slip into falling in love with the sound of one’s own voice, or of the music. The audience will, of course, fall in love with that also … but they paid to see the story. That’s what I’m trying to get to.

WD: How did you prepare to direct this production in the pre-rehearsal process?

Knott: I’ve spent countless hours discussing, with Julie, the assistant director (and my domestic partner), the characters, the small moments, the big moments, the set, the setting, the time. I’ve been studying this show for a year. The actors have been studying it for two months. As with most projects of this magnitude, one has lots of big ideas. I have dozens of things in my head about this show, these characters, and deep character dives. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that my ambition – while never fully put aside – can get in the way of the fundamentals. Sometimes, you have to worry about making sure everyone can be seen, that the set is going to work, or that the props get cleared. … I’m excited to see how much of that ambition makes it to the stage.

If you go

WHAT: “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

WHERE: Wheaton Drama’s Playhouse 111, 111 N. Hale St., Wheaton

WHEN: May 24 to June 16, with curtain at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

COST: $21 to $24

INFO:, 630-260-1820

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