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Ben Skinner

Ben Skinner/Daily Collegian

The UMass Theater Guild’s production of Sweeney Todd opens tonight. The musical features a cast and artistic team composed almost entirely of UMass students.

The plot surrounds the story of Benjamin Barker, a barber who returns to London after more than a decade of exile. After finding the remnants of his former life in ruins, Barker takes up the alias of Sweeney Todd and a mission of murderous revenge with the help of his landlady, Mrs. Lovett.

Despite the murderous plot, Sweeney is no villain, according to Artistic Director Sophie Kaner.

“[The characters] really can’t be boiled down to ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ or ‘damsel in distress,” Kaner said. “The show is about many people, who all struggle to deal with what society expects of them versus what they really want. For that reason, I came to the conclusion that the villain is, in fact, the class system that traps every character.”

Sweeney follows the Theater Guild’s production of The Laramie Project. Each semester, the Guild produces one play and one musical. The musical was selected last semester during a special meeting, in which it competed against several other musicals.

Producer Dana Levy said, “There was an overwhelming majority voting for Sweeney.”

This is not at all surprising, as this production trails the well-received Tim Burton film adaptation by less than two years. However, there are some significant thematic differences between the film and stage versions.

“The stage version is more about the characters, as opposed to the film, which focuses on the action and the horror genre,” said publicity director and cast member Ben Skinner.

That is not to say that the show will be lacking in gore, by any means. Sweeney made theater history as the first popular horror musical, since the modern musical genre developed in the early 1900s. The gore was especially hard-hitting for its first audiences, as it came right after the happy-go-lucky musicals of the 1950s and 1960s.

While there is no existing proof of a London barber by the name of Todd, it is suspected that the original folk tale of Sweeney Todd drew inspiration from a barber in Paris who killed his clients in 1800. He then teamed up with a pastry chef, who actually baked and served the cannibalistic pies for human consumption.

Gore is not the only part of Sweeney Todd. The multi-Tony Award winning show has multiple layers to it.

While the musical has become infamous for its bloody murder sequences, “It is also part romance, part action, part drama, and then there is the horror aspect,” said Ben Sharton, who plays Sweeney Todd. “There really is something for everyone.”

Sweeney Todd first opened on Broadway in 1979, where it won eight Tony Awards. It has since had two revivals on Broadway, and the three productions have earned a combined 10 Tony Awards.

Sweeney Todd will play at the Fine Arts Center today and tomorrow at 8:00 P.M., as well as Saturday at 2:00 P.M. and at 8:00 P.M. Tickets can be purchased at the Fine Arts Center Box Office. Student tickets are $6 each, and adult tickets are $10.

Alissa Mesibov can be reached at amesibov@student.umass.edu.

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