Staples Players is in the midst of another this-is-like-Broadway run. “Sweeney Todd” wowed audiences last weekend. Tickets may sell out soon for this weekend’s final shows.
Audience members awed by the teenagers’ performances say to themselves, “If only I had enough talent to get on stage…”
Rondi Charleston at 19 — the year she auditioned for “Sweeney Todd.”
One Westporter does more than just think it. She remembers vividly the day 36 years ago when she auditioned for that very show.
In 1979, Rondi Charleston was a 2nd-year student in Juilliard’s drama department. She was called to audition as an ingenue in the original production of “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway.
Charleston sang for the casting director. The next day she was called back to sing for director Hal Prince, in a big, historic theater.
Prince liked what he heard. She was called back again. This time, Stephen Sondheim was there.
Charleston was not nervous. “I was young and naive,” she laughs.
Charleston made it to one of 3 finalists. Eventually the role — Johanna, a classic Sondheim ingenue — went to someone a bit older and more seasoned.
Rondi Charleston and Emma Ruchefsky.
Charleston is enjoying watching the current Staples Johanna — and not just because she almost played it herself.
One of the double-cast roles is Emma Ruchefsky — Charleston’s daughter.
“Life has come full circle,” the former actor says. “I couldn’t be happier or more thrilled that she is getting the chance to put her stamp on this role. I have so much respect for the work that all these kids do!”
Congrats to Emma, and Rondi — a “stage mother” everyone can love.
(Staples Players performs “Sweeney Todd” this Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21. For tickets and more information, click on StaplesPlayers.com.)
Johanna (Emma Ruchefsky) and Anthony Hope (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)
Posted onMarch 6, 2015|Comments Off on Staples Players’ Post-Apocalyptic “Sweeney Todd”
Stephen Sondheim is notorious for writing difficult musical theater. And “Sweeney Todd” is considered to be his best — and perhaps musically toughest — work.
Which is exactly why the show has been chosen by directors David Roth and Kerry Long for this spring’s Staples Players mainstage production.
The curtain rises next Friday (March 13) on a unique version of the 1979 Tony Award-winning thriller. Set not in 1849, but 200 years later — 2049 — Staples’ “Sweeney” envisions a post-apocalyptic world. The undefined-but-class-war-type disaster unfolded in 2015 — this year — when both Sweeney Todd and Nellie Lovett were 17. That’s the age, of course, of the stars of the show.
Those stars have embraced what Roth and Long are asking them to do.
“Musically, this is the most challenging production since I’ve been here,” says Roth, a 1984 Staples graduate who directed his first Players show in 2000.
“The harmonies, rhythms and lyrics are all very tough,” Roth says. “That’s why actors love it.”
Sweeney Todd (Everett Sussman) and Mrs. Lovett (Juliet Kimble), in an intense scene. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Before auditions began, Roth compared it to “A Chorus Line.” He told potential cast members that, just as that show demanded above all else the ability to dance, this one revolves around musicality.
And, Roth noted, that does not just mean a good singing voice. Actors also need to handle very complicated music.
“Sondheim says it bothers him when everyone singing a musical theater number has the same thought at the same time,” Roth explains. “So he writes 8 or 9 different thoughts. It’s much closer to reality.”
It’s also a lot to ask of teenagers. But Staples Players are not typical teenagers.
Like Roth and Long, they love Sondheim’s dark humor. They understand his tragic, broad themes. Like the best actors anywhere, they’ve appreciated the chance to find out where all those characters come from.
To prepare for the show, Roth has scheduled more singing rehearsals than usual. Music director Luke Rosenberg — who talked about doing “Sweeney Todd” since arriving at Staples 3 years ago — has worked hard with the directors to make sure the cast understands exactly what they’re singing.
“With Sondheim, music informs the emotion of a scene,” Roth says. “We’re trying to let that happen.”
He’s given the actors plenty of table work — talking about what happened to them in the “apocalypse,” figuring out the events that led them to where they are in 2049.
Technical director Pete DiFranco and professional set designer (and Players alum) Reid Thompson have built a clever brick structure that evokes the world Roth and Long have envision.
Meanwhile, Priscilla Stampa and Marjorie Watt — Players’ longtime costume designers, who are retiring after this main stage production — have created very innovative, post-acopalyptic costumes.
The cast of “Sweeney Todd” gets ready for opening night. (Photo/Kerry Long)
The best theater challenges, provokes and prods its audience. Stephen Sondheim is a masterful creator of the best theater — and Staples Players are wonderful interpreters of it. The 2049 version of “Sweeney Todd” promises to be a show for the ages.
(“Sweeney Todd” will be produced on Friday and Saturday, March 13, 14, 20 and 21, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 15 at 3 p.m., in the Staples High School auditorium. For tickets and more information, click here.)
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