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Bringing the DEMON BARBER to life

Joyce Rudolph

The horrific tale of “Sweeney Todd” is proving to be challenging

material, but a rewarding experience, for teens performing in

Foothill Summer Theatre’s 24th annual production opening this

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weekend.

Set during the industrial revolution in 18th century London,

barber Sweeney Todd loses his wife and son to a tyrant entrepreneur

and seeks revenge through murdering numerous victims. He hides their

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remains with help from Nellie Lovett, who bakes them into her pies,

which become popular throughout the city.

The play is a major one to have listed on an actor’s resume, said

Julie Adams, 17, of Burbank who plays Lovett.

“It’s not a musical that everyone has heard of,” she said. “It’s a

great musical. The Stephen Sondheim music is unbelievable and it’s

filled with great characters.”

The original 1979 production of “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of

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Fleet Street” won eight Tony Awards and eight New York Drama Critics

Circle Awards. It mixes intense drama with dark humor.

Julie, who is a senior at Los Angeles County High School for the

Arts, said her part is very challenging.

“Mrs. Lovett has a crush on Sweeney, but he doesn’t love her, and

her mind is all over the place. She’s twisted,” Julie said. “She

suggests turning the bodies into meat pies.”

Lovett and Todd sing several songs together, but it takes a lot of

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concentration, she said, because they are singing different harmonies

and lyrics at the same time.

“This show is not a cheery musical like ‘Guys and Dolls,’ ” she

said. “It’s giving actors very challenging work. Some of them are as

young as 13. You learn a lot of great lessons from the story, and

it’s kind of scary, but it’s a great musical and I’m proud to have it

on my resume.”

For A.J. Blumenfeld, 14, of La Canada Flintridge, his role as

Tobias is the most challenging and rewarding one he’s had since he

started acting in commercials at 5, he said.

Blumenfeld plays the boy who sells the pies, but is the one to

first catch on that something is very wrong with them.

“I’ve never had to explore so deep into a character before,” he

said. “It’s been challenging in the music and character development.

There is no other program that could do this for me. For however

ambitious it was, I’m glad we’re doing it because it will give us

great rewards in the end.”

The audience will be stunned at the teens’ professionalism after

seeing the performance, said producer Linda Johnson of Glendale.

Even though the actors range from 13 to 19, this is not just

another high school performance, she said.

“In five minutes, you will forget you are watching students,” she

said. “They are so good and so well trained.”

The program is so well known, youngsters come from all over Los

Angeles to audition. This year’s cast represents 11 different

communities.

“The actors have a broad range of experience -- some are from the

Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and some are very

experienced dancers and vocalists,” she said. “And some have never

been on the stage.”

Fortifying the program, Johnson said, are the teachers, Brett

Carroll, choral music director from Burbank High School; costumer

Zale Morris, who owns several original Victorian pieces being used in

this production; and choreographer Nancy Evans-Doede, a dance teacher

at La Salle Preparatory School in Pasadena.

Directing the production is Zoe Bright. It’s her third time

directing a Foothill Summer Theatre project.

The British actress has starred in eight major productions in

London’s West End, the theater district equivalent to New York’s

Broadway.

The La Crescenta resident assisted the choreographer for the

production of “Sweeney Todd” in the 1980s at the Dorothy Chandler

Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Bright called this year’s cast an amazing and talented group.

“It’s a bizarre story to write a musical on but it’s a musical

thriller and a melodrama,” she said. “I think people will come to see

it and walk out stunned by the story and amazing singing and music.”

After watching a recent technical rehearsal and listening to the

extraordinary voices, Bright said, the hair stood up on her neck.

“If it did that to me, I’m sure it will do the same to the

audience,” she said.


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