Plenty of D.R.A.M.A. as 'Sweeney Todd' comes to Broad Street

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Tue., Jul. 5, 2011
Adam Leidemer is 'Sweeny Todd' and Jessica van der Swaagh is 'Mrs. Lovett' in the Little Theatre on Broad Street's 'Sweeney Todd.' Photos by Denise Coffey.
Adam Leidemer is 'Sweeny Todd' and Jessica van der Swaagh is 'Mrs. Lovett' in the Little Theatre on Broad Street's 'Sweeney Todd.' Photos by Denise Coffey.

The Little Theatre on Broad Street’s auditorium at the Killingly Community Center was filled busy cast and crew members on June 29. Two actors were on stage rehearsing a scene from “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which opens on July 7. One actor paused for several seconds. “I'm sorry,” he said. “Line?”

Stage manager Sue White, sitting in the front row, called the line out to him and he continued.

In the corner, a young man in plaid shorts sat on a ladder painting the set. Children ran through the auditorium. Two young girls in long dresses curtsied to one another again and again. The rest of the cast sat waiting for their turns on the stage.

It was another rehearsal for the Little Theatre's first D.R.A.M.A. Production. The acronym stands for Daring to Reach Adult and Mature Audiences. Theater director Jessica van der Swaagh said D.R.A.M.A.’s goal is to bring thought-provoking shows to the community.

“Every now and then, you want to find a piece that challenges the performers, as well as the audience,” said van der Swaagh. “To watch a show that's dark and to sympathize with those characters is important. It's important for us to have our audiences come in and think about what they're seeing. It's a great aspect of our theater that we've never done before.”

“Sweeney Todd” has more than its share of murder and mayhem, betrayal and loss. The main characters include an angry man bent on revenge and a desperate woman willing to do anything to get the man she desires.

“The theme of this show is pretty dark,” van der Swaagh said. “The characters are difficult characters. As an actor, you really have to be able to delve into areas of your own personality that you don't normally deal with. You have to get to the root of the character and understand why. In order to portray them properly, you have to understand who they are, which takes a lot of work.”

Van der Swaagh ought to know what she's talking about. She plays the role of Mrs. Lovett, a woman so in love with Sweeney Todd that she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep him around. She is literally willing to kill for him. “That is certainly not an emotion that I have every day,” she said, laughing.

She wants to portray Mrs. Lovett in such a way that the audience will be able to sympathize with her. “In order to portray her as someone the audience likes, there has to be an aspect of her that they like,” she said. “She's pined away for this man for so many years, and she finally has a chance to have what she's always wanted.” She thinks the audience will be able to relate to that.

This is the Little Theatre's fifth season. Van der Swaagh believes that the only way to grow is to try new things. “We've been fortunate that everything we've done in the past has been successful,” she said. “Let's try it and see what happens.”

“Sweeney Todd” is darkly comic and contains complex music. It may not be a show that all audiences will enjoy. Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics, which are notoriously difficult to sing, according to van der Swaagh. “He's an incredible writer, but his music is hard. There are lots of harmonizing with others. The tempos change constantly.”

Percussionist Ralph Campagna agreed. “The time signatures are crazy difficult,” he said. Campagna, Cal Hines and music director Carol Rossetti made notes on their scores while practicing. “He goes from 3:4 to 4:4 to 6:8,” Campagna said. “It's a unique sound.”

“Would I love to see 250 [people] in the audience?” van der Swaagh asked. “Absolutely. Not everyone likes Stephen Sondheim. He's very quirky. His songs can be atonal. There are strange notes. Some people don't like that. The people who do like him will come and see the show and be pleased.

“We always want to pack the house,” she said, but she won't base success on how many people come through the door. “We base it on how many enjoyed it. If 10 people enjoyed it, that's success. Will they come back? That's success.”

“Sweeney Todd” will open July 7 at 7 p.m. at the Little Theatre on Broad Street in Danielson. Showtimes will be July 8, 9, 10, 15 and 16 at 7 p.m. Sunday matinees will be held July 10 and 17 at 2 p.m. Tickets for adults are $10. Tickets for children and seniors are $8. Tickets may be purchased at Killingly Parks and Recreation on Broad Street or the Trink-et Shoppe, Etc., Etc. on Main Street in Danielson. Tickets will also be available at the door. For more information, call 860-779-5390.

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