Oct 192011
 
Authors: Colleen McSweeney

Senior music major David Dimmen always makes sure to cover the sharp edge of the razor with his thumb before gliding it across his victims’ throats.

Yet as he pretends to slice the jugular of each innocent man looking for a shave, the audience won’t even be able to notice the protective thumb, Dimmen said.
But they will notice the blood.

Dimmen, who is one of two men playing Sweeney Todd in CSU’s upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” initially felt unsure about his role as the murderous Todd.

“I’ve only ever played the ‘good guy’ in past shows,” Dimmen said.

To research the role, Dimmen first watched Tim Burton’s 2007 movie adaptation of “Sweeney Todd,” starring Johnny Depp –– but he thought Depp’s portrayal of Todd was less than inspiring.

“I didn’t like it at all. I was like, ‘Ugh man, I’m stuck with this show. I don’t want to do this at all,’” Dimmen said. “It just didn’t really appeal to me, you know?”

But he became enlightened to a different side of the “Demon Barber” after watching the lesser-known, 1982 TV-version of the musical starring George Hearn as Todd.

“It was nice to see a side of Sweeney that wasn’t Johnny Depp,” Dimmen said. “Seeing a different version –– someone who isn’t a ‘quiet killer,’ but rather, just completely ‘out there,’ was cool. You know, someone who screams all the time, and things like that.”

While Dimmen had to break out of his “good guy” rut to become a dark, loudly animated Todd, Nathan Hickle, second year music graduate student and the second of the two Todds, had a little less trouble easing into the murderous mindset.

“I’m used to playing the ‘bad guy’,” Hickle said.

Hickle and Dimmen (who will both alternate nights playing Todd) were recently in another CSU production together in which Hickle played the antagonist to Dimmen’s protagonist; so, he says it’s been interesting seeing how they each portray the same character with their individual styles.

”I feel like I’m a little bit more brooding than (Dimmen) is,” Hickle said. “He’s a Sweeney who’s more easily amused, I guess you could say. While I’m more ‘grrr’ all the time.”

And even though Hickle has gotten used to playing the “bad guy” in his opera and theatre roles, he says it’s still been a challenge transforming into a vengeful killer.

“I somehow have to make it believable onstage that I actually want to murder all of these people,” Hickle said.

“It’s really pushed me to see how far I’ll go to make the audience believe what I’m doing in a role,” Hickle said. “But, you know, I haven’t actually gone out and murdered anyone or anything like that…”

While neither Hickle nor Dimmen are actually murdering their castmates onstage and baking them into Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies, the production crew of CSU’s “Sweeney Todd” has put a lot of effort into making it look like they are.

In Tim Burton’s movie adaptation of “Sweeney Todd,” the gruesome spouting of bright red blood from the necks of Todd’s victim becomes a character in itself.

But, if CSU’s production used fake, liquid blood for their barber chair murder scenes, “people would be slipping all over the place onstage,” Dimmen said.

So instead, every time a victim’s throat is “sliced” by Todd onstage, a splattering of blood will be eerily projected onto the window behind the barber’s chair, said CSU opera professor and the show’s director, Gregory Brookes.

“It’s intricate, unique detail like this that will make this a really layered and complicated show,” Brookes said.

There will be quite a few differences in CSU’s production compared to the movie version, Brookes said, because he is following Stephen Sondheim’s original Broadway play more closely.

“In his (original script), Sondheim asks production to move between scenes really quickly, so we had to create a lot of intricate lighting to achieve that,” Brookes said. “This is by far the most technically complex show of anything I’ve ever done.”

There will also be a constant flow of a fog machine amid the architecture of the show’s Gothic set, reflecting the air of 18th century London.

”We’re using haze to make the atmosphere of the show thicker…darker,” Brookes said.

And the stage won’t be the only thing made to look “darker,” or more sinister: The cast members, especially the chorus, will be transformed to look like they belong on the filthy roads of Fleet Street.

“It’s fun because you get to make them gross,” said senior theatre major and the show’s hairstylist Meg Loughman. In order to make the cast of human-pie-eating Londoners look sufficiently grungy, Loughman will “rat their hair, add tooth decay and splatter them with dirt.”

While the characters will be dressed to reflect the gritty depravity of the London streets, director Brookes says the quality of the voices in the show –– since most cast members are voice majors –– will be anything but dingy.

“I think the audience will be really happy with the singers,” Brookes said. “And all the music is just really richly layered.”

Since this production of “Sweeney Todd” is a collaboration between both the opera and theatre departments of CSU, the cast will be versed in both strong vocal and acting training.

And this diverse set of background and skill is one of the reasons why Dimmen, who will open as Todd tomorrow night, thinks this show is so special.

“Sure, there’s lot of stigma surrounding operas. Most CSU students would say, ‘Opera, great, yeah I really want to go to that,’” Dimmen said. “But this is a sort of mix between opera and theatre. I really think that negative stereotype can be changed after all we’ve done with ‘Sweeney Todd.’”

Editorial Editor Colleen McSweeney is a junior journalism major. She can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

What: Opera Theatre Presents: Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street

When: Friday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m
Friday, Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 30 at 2:00 p.m.

Where: Griffin Concert Hall, University Center for the Arts

Price: $10 for CSU students, $1 for youth (2 – 17), $20 for adult

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