Demon barber serves sweet revenge in local play

Tim Ownby (left), who plays Sweeney Todd, and Anna Gibson, who plays Mrs. Lovett,  perform “The Worst Pies In London” at a recent practice.  “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” begins Nov. 19 at the Shoals Theatre.

by Staff Writer Monday Sanderson

He slices and dices. He clips and snips. He serves it all up in a delicious pie.

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” begins Nov. 19 at the Shoals Theatre. Nightly shows through Nov. 21 begin at 7:30 p.m. with the final show Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.

“The major themes in the story are revenge, murder and cannibalism,” said director Steifon Passmore.

The story tells of a corrupt judge who unjustly sends a man to prison, he said. Years later, that man returns to find his wife dead and his young daughter the ward of the man who sent him away. The local pie maker helps him assume a new identity and enact his revenge.

“Tim Burton is my favorite director, and he directed the movie with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter,” said junior Paige McCay. “After watching that, I became really obsessed with it.”

Passmore said he encourages anyone who has seen the movie to come see the play.

Junior Javarice Moody, who plays Fog, said the play is completely different from the movie.

“It’s still that dark and gritty style that Sweeney Todd is known for, but there’s so much more in the play,” he said.

Senior Austin Parsons, who plays Todd’s rival Adolfo Pirelli, said there will be more music in the play than in the movie.

“The movie was cut down for time, so there were certain songs and scenes that were reduced significantly,” he said. “Another thing done differently is that the opening number, ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,’ will be sung by the choir.”

Moody said the singing in the play will not disappoint the audience.

“I needed strong vocalists,” Passmore said. “Realistically, we are not just overrun with Broadway-level voices that are available to community theatre, but I believe the talent we have in this would be considered respectable to Broadway talent.”

Moody said working on the play has been a good experience.

“It’s one of the few plays that I’ve been a part of where everyone feels like a team,” he said.

Passmore said this was his first time directing a musical, and he hopes the audience enjoys it.

“This is easily the most ambitious project I have ever worked on in all my 25 years in theatre,” he said.

Passmore warns the play is not for small children.

“The language, while not gratuitous, is strong in places,” he said. “There are strong sexual themes explored in the action of the play and, well, cannibalism.”

Passmore said the cast is a mixture of UNA students and community members.

Community member Tim Ownby plays Sweeney Todd, and UNA alumna Anna Gibson plays Mrs. Lovett, the owner of the meat pie shop who helps Todd get his revenge.

Members of UNA’s Choir Department and the UNA Orchestra have also been part of the production, he said.

“It is our hope that this will be the beginning of future collaborations,” he said.

Moody, who plays Fog, said the play is completely different from the movie.

“It’s still that dark and gritty style that Sweeney Todd is known for, but there’s so much more in the play,” he said.

Senior Austin Parsons, who plays Todd’s rival Adolfo Pirelli, said there will be more music in the play than in the movie.

“The movie was cut down for time, so there were certain songs and scenes that were reduced significantly,” he said. “Another thing done differently is that the opening number, “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” will be sung by the choir.”

Moody said the singing in the play will not disappoint the audience.

“I needed strong vocalists,” Passmore said. “Realistically we are not just overrun with Broadway level voices that are available to community theatre, but I believe the talent we have in this would be considered respectable to Broadway talent.”

Moody said working on the play has been a good experience.

“It’s one of the few plays that I’ve been a part of where everyone feels like a team,” he said. “We all work together and help each other out.”

Passmore said this was his first time directing a musical and he hopes the audience enjoys it.

“This is easily the most ambitious project I have ever worked on in all my 25 years in theatre,” he said.

Passmore warns the play is not for small children.

“The language, while not gratuitous, is strong in places,” he said. “There are strong sexual themes explored in the action of the play, and well—cannibalism.”

Passmore said the cast is a mixture of UNA students and non-UNA students. Tim Ownby plays Sweeney Todd and Anna Gibson plays Mrs. Lovett, the owner of the meat-pie shop who helps Todd get his revenge.