Tuesday, February 2, 2010

From the barbershop floor

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2010 at 4:55 PM

Two weekends remain to catch the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Bree Abel interviewed producing artistic director and lead actor Alan Osburn in our January 21 issue.

Here's some extra notes she wanted to share that didn't make our final cut (pun intended):

Alan Osburn's qualms with Tim Burton's dreary film version of Sweeney Todd include a few critiques I didn't mention in my Jan. 21 preview of the FAC Theatre Company's winter production of the musical. Burton, whose films are notorious for their gloomy guise, made several other changes to Sondheim's version of the urban legend Sweeney Todd. A striking visual example: When Todd drops a customer down the trap door in the play, they go feet-first; in Burton's film, they fall head first — surely a more horrifying experience.

A Sweeny Todd set inspiration shared by the FAC
  • A Sweeny Todd set inspiration shared by the FAC

Burton also cut the 16-person Greek chorus that updates the audience and offers insight into Todd's motive. In Sondheim's musical, "the audience is more involved," Osburn says. But in Burton's take, there's "no mediator between the audience and what's going on." Perhaps this is one reason Burton's film lacks the humanity of the play.

While Sondheim's play is more comedy than horror show, Osburn says the Tony-Academy-Grammy-and-Pulitzer-winning composer wove a chilling subtext into Sweeney Todd's score: "The music itself is an homage to Bernard Herrmann." The Academy-Award-winning composer who wrote the scores for Hitchcock's films from 1955 to 1964 worked on some of Hitchock's most known thrillers and arguably the most famous clip in American film history: the shower scene in Psycho. The screeching string section evokes the "fight or flight" reaction and characterizes the psychological nuance Herrmann evoked with his revolutionary instrumental combinations. (Interestingly, Hitchcock originally suggested to Herrmann that the scene be silent.)

"There's a high-pitched sound throughout the entire play that's straight out of a Bernard Herrmann film," Osburn says. "Sondheim wanted to have the underscoring of this thing be so pulsing that it drove the play."

In addition to eerie instrumental combinations, Sondheim added some musical subtext to the score. For the theme song "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," he played the tune of Dies Irea, a famous Latin judgement day hymn, backwards.

Also worth noting, the set of the original Broadway show in 1979 cost around five million dollars. I'm sure you can see why this is the biggest set the company has ever built.

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