Pitt Rep and Pitt’s Music Department Collaborate To Present 'Sweeney Todd' Nov. 3-13

Issue Date: 
October 24, 2011
From left, Rocky Paterra as Tobias Ragg, and Theo Allyn as Mrs. LovettFrom left, Rocky Paterra as Tobias Ragg, and Theo Allyn as Mrs. Lovett

Pitt’s Charity Randall Theatre is abuzz with activity this fall. More than 50 actors, set designers, technicians, and others are in rehearsals for one of the most ambitious plays ever presented by Pitt Repertory Theatre—Stephen Sondheim’s adaptation of the macabre musical thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

A block away in Bellefield Hall, members of the University of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra also are rehearsing. About 60 Pitt musicians will provide the musical accompaniment to the dramatic story of a deranged barber who cuts his customers’ throats and then serves them as meat pies baked by his accomplice Mrs. Lovett.

The production, which will run Nov. 3-13, marks the first collaboration between Pitt Rep and Pitt’s Department of Music. It kicks off Pitt Rep’s 2011-12 season, which is titled Bodies of Evidence.

Sweeney Todd will star Richard Teaster, director of the Pitt Men’s Glee Club, in the title role; local actor and Pitt teaching artist-in-residence Theo Allyn as Mrs. Lovett; and Pitt teaching artist-in-residence Andy Nagraj as Judge Turpin. A dozen undergraduate students round out the cast, whose members are getting intensive training in dance and vocals, as well as physical workouts with a fight choreographer.

While not technically an opera, Sweeney Todd places operatic demands on the singer-actors.

“There’s going to be a lot of give and take between the musicians and actors,” says director and Theatre Arts faculty member Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, who first met with orchestra director Roger Zahab about the project in the summer of 2010.

Zahab says there is underscoring throughout Sweeney Todd, but the biggest challenge for his musicians will be responding to what is happening on stage.

“The orchestra is a very important part of the drama,” says Zahab. “It is another character.” Whereas a film score is fixed, Zahab explains that actors in a live on-stage play strive to keep performances fresh every time. He calls it “the soul of live theater.” And the musical score, he says, is the “ocean of sound in which the characters swim.”

While the production team and crew work to pull the show together, there are costume fittings under way as well as work by another team to design and produce props.

“It takes a ton of people to create this world . . . and it’s very exciting,” says Jackson-Schebetta.

Performances of Sweeney Todd will be at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 412-624-0933.

Information on the other plays in Pitt Rep’s season follows.

The Gammage Project (World Premiere)

Feb. 9-19, 2012

Henry Heymann Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial

Written by: Attilio Favorini

Directed by: Mark Clayton Southers

On Oct. 12, 1995, Johnny Gammage, cousin of former Pittsburgh Steeler Ray Seals, was stopped by a Brentwood, Pa., police officer. Seven minutes later, Gammage was dead. This original docudrama goes beyond issues of Black and White to expose the failures of public policy that still trouble the city of Pittsburgh.


March 29-April 7, 2012

Henry Heymann Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial

Written by: Manjula Padmanabhan

Directed by: Anjalee Deshpande Hutchinson

In near-future Mumbai, India, a family struggles to survive in a world in which the economy has deteriorated beyond repair and the only way to survive is to sell yourself, piece by piece. Harvest, a dark speculative satire, explores the human experience in a world in which life can be packaged, bought, and sold. Just don’t ask yourself how much life really costs.