Desert Companion

Theater: Rich and Tasty


Sweeny Todd
Illustration by Rick Sealock

The upper crust winds up under the pie crust in Majestic Repertory’s class-struggle take on Sweeney Todd


JOHNNY DEPP HAS LEFT THE BUILDING: Don’t let Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd shape your expectations when you see Majestic Repertory’s version of the 1979 Stephen Sondheim musical about the wrongly imprisoned barber, who seeks murderous revenge on those responsible, while his accomplice bakes their remains into meat pies. “It’s not a cinematic experience,” says director Troy Heard. “It’s live and in-your-face, and you have to use your imagination.” Seeing Sweeney was a formative experience for Heard — no surprise if you’re familiar with his outsize horror-film aesthetic — and he wants his production to offer that same primal trip. It’s not, however, one of his efforts in immersing and involving the audience in the show. “No,” he says, “you don’t have to worry about getting ground up into a meat pie.”

THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST: “This is my origin story as a theater director. As a high schooler, I was doing little horror films in my backyard. I went to a small Catholic school (in Columbus, Georgia) that didn’t have a drama program. So my sophomore year the new principal said, ‘We need a drama program. You do all this weird horror stuff, you want to direct movies, why don’t you come direct a play?’ I said, ‘No, plays are boring.’ He said, ‘No, no, no — there’s a slasher film onstage that you need to go see. It’s called Sweeney Todd.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll go see it.’ I saw it every weekend after that.”

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LONDON CALLING: The musical is usually set in 19th century London, when the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution give Sweeney’s deadly actions a powerful social context. Majestic updates its version to 1970s London, when the squealing birth of punk rock highlighted Britain’s class distinctions. The character of Toby, usually played as a simpleminded youngster, is now a heroin-addicted gutter punk. “You definitely see the descendants of Downton Abbey onstage, and you see some street trash.”

WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT CLASS? Heard singles out a line from the show: Those above shall serve those down below. That’s what clicked for Heard and the Majestic crew, who haven’t shied away from political material. “It’s the class struggle,” he says. “It’s about the patricians and plebeians. It’s the rich crushing the poor at every opportunity. And now you can eat the rich.”

WHAT’S THE SHOW’S ENDURING APPEAL? Sondheim’s music — and the resonant revenge story. After all, everything Sweeney loved has been stripped from him, and he wants savage justice. Just like the rest of us: “Someone cuts you off in traffic, you’re not going to say, ‘Have a nice day!” So: revenge!

ALSO THIS: “It’s so funny. There’s humor all throughout.”

AND THIS: “There is blood.”

Sweeney Todd, January 16-February 9, $28, 1217 S. Main St.,




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