Anne Tolpegin and Kevin Early in "Sweeney Todd." Courtesy of Pioneer Theatre Company.

 

This Halloween, Salt Lake City audiences can enjoy a horror classic live on stage. Stephen Sondheim’s beloved musical, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” will come to Pioneer Theatre Company.

Some audiences may assume that the term “horror musical” is an oxymoron. Gory tales of murder don’t exactly fit into the image of a happy-go-lucky Golden Age musical, and most shows don’t give audiences nightmares unless the singing is particularly bad. “Sweeny Todd,” however, has delighted and scared audiences for almost forty years. The original 1979 production won critical acclaim and eight Tony Awards, and several of the show’s songs, especially “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and “A Little Priest,” are now standards. “Sweeney Todd” is considered one of Sondheim’s most brilliant works and one of the best musicals of all time. The production has enjoyed two Broadway revivals, as well as countless other professional and amateur productions. Many viewers may also know “Sweeney Todd” from the 2007 film adaptation starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

Jonathan Shew and DeLaney Westfall in “Sweeney Todd.” Courtesy of Pioneer Theatre Company

The character of Sweeney Todd was first introduced in the Victorian penny dreadful “The String of Pearls.” While it is unclear if Todd is based on a real person, it is clear that the character has fascinated people for generations. Todd has shown up in several plays, movies and melodramas since his creation. In this musical, an aggrieved Todd returns to London after a false accusation leads to prison time. Upon his return, he forms an unlikely friendship with Nellie Lovett, a pie shop owner. As Todd’s rage builds, he begins to use his razors for more than just shaving beards, while Nellie discovers an unsavory new ingredient for her pies.

Playing the role of Sweeney Todd is Kevin Earley, who has appeared onstage at PTC and in numerous Broadway and national touring productions. Anne Toplegin, who plays Nellie, also has credits from Broadway productions, including productions of “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Les Miserables.” These two seasoned veterans of the stage tackle difficult roles to balance the show’s offbeat humor and emotional depth — all while singing Sondheim’s infamously difficult musical score. This production promises to be a night of bone-chilling entertainment filled with dark humor, witty songs and fascinating characters.

Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” will run from Oct. 26 to Nov. 10. Performances are at 7 p.m. on weekdays and 7:30 p.m. on weekends, with additional matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays. For ticket prices and more information, visit pioneertheatre.org.

Warning: “Sweeney Todd” contains violence and some strong language.

j.petersen@dailyutahchronicle.com

@JoshPetersen7

Josh Petersen is an Assistant Editor covering Arts and Entertainment and a regular contributor to the Opinion desk. He is a Junior studying English and Psychology.

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