This weekend, the Dramat will do its part to jump-start Yalies’ bloodlust before the Harvard-Yale game.
“Sweeney Todd,” the Yale Dramatic Association’s fall mainstage production, tells the tale of a vicious barber seeking vengeance in an unjust world by turning his clients into meat pies. Director Tom Ridgely said this production, which opens tonight at the University Theater, aims to bring a Victorian Gothic atmosphere to modern-day New Haven.
“There’s a moment in the epilogue when the company says, ‘No one can help you, nothing can hide you / Isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?’ — that’s how I want Yalies to feel,” said Ridgely, a director hired by the Dramat for the production.
The Dramat’s production of “Sweeney” alters the original staging, he said: with the first scene set in the University Theater in the present day, the musical gradually transitions into Victorian London, the show’s traditional setting, as the plot grows darker and more fantastical. This modification, Ridgely said, is meant to underscore Sweeney’s journey from “everyman to serial killer.”
Lily Lamb-Atkinson ’12, president of the Yale Dramatic Association, said the production stays true to composer Stephen Sondheim’s original vision while making it relevant to Yale students. The show achieves this goal by incorporating elements of Yale’s campus culture including landmarks such as Harkness Tower, producer Melissa Cail ’13 said.
With its relevance to Yalies and visceral nature, “Sweeney” may appeal even to students with limited familiarity with musicals, Lamb-Atkinson added.
“Lots of musicals can get toothy and saccharine,” Ridgely said. “But ‘Sweeney’ appeals to folks who may not think ‘Oklahoma’ is their thing.”
The show has seen an unprecedented level of interest, Cail said, both from participants who were new to theater and from audience members. The Dramat has decided to invest extra money in additional seating, she added, opening up the balcony of the University Theater for Friday and Saturday night’s performances. As of Tuesday night, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday performances are already fully booked, Cail said.
The presence of alumni and Harvard students in New Haven over the weekend for the Harvard-Yale football game may have driven tickets sales higher than usual, Lamb-Atkinson added.
She added that “Sweeney” is also notable for the unusually large scale of the production itself. The show’s 20-person cast makes it larger than the cast of any Dramat mainstage in about 10 years, Cail said; by comparison, last fall year’s production of “RENT” had 16 cast members. Meanwhile, Cail added, the show’s 29-piece orchestra is the largest Dramat musical ensemble in the past decade.
“There is only one show on Broadway right now with a larger orchestra, and that’s Sondheim’s ‘Follies,’ which has a cast of 40 and an orchestra of 30,” Ridgely said. “They outdid us by literally one person.“
He added that he wants ‘Sweeney’ to be the “biggest, baddest” show Yale audiences have ever experienced.
And the selection of ‘Sweeney’ may be especially suited to the spirit of this Saturday’s Harvard-Yale football game, Ridgely said.
“We’ll hopefully inspire a little bloodlust,” Ridgely said. “Maybe the boys [on the football team] should come see the show Friday night.”
Ridgely and Cail added that, had their budget permitted it, they would have liked to make “Sweeney” merchandise related to the game.
“For instance, a T-shirt that says ‘There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit, / And it’s filled with people who are filled with s—, / And the vermin of the world inhabit it, / And it’s called Harvard!’” Ridgely said.
“Sweeney Todd” will run at the University Theater through Saturday.
CLARIFICATION: Nov. 17
An earlier version of this article stated that the Dramat’s production would alter the original script, when it actually alters the staging.