SELMA – Sweeney Todd may do a lot of killing in the latest musical at the Selma Arts Center, but that doesn’t necessarily make him the bad guy. At least that’s what actor Chris Carsten thinks about his character that’s been pushed just a little too far to stay completely sane.
“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” opens Oct. 5 and tells the story of an unjustly exiled barber. His real name is Benjamin Barker and he’s been wrongfully imprisoned for the past 15 years. He returns to London to find that the lecherous Judge Turpin who framed him in the first place has ravaged his young wife and adopted his young daughter.
In his thirst for revenge, he conspires with pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett who helps by grinding up his victims into her meat pies.
Joseph Ham is directing this musical and describes it as unconventionally appealing.
“I consider this to be Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece. He has a lot of pieces of musical theater that everybody loves, but I consider this to be his true masterpiece,” Ham said during rehearsals Sept. 25. “It combines so many different elements of theater – drama, tragedy, comedy and horror. It has moments of truly beautiful music and moments of pure horror. And this cast is doing an absolutely incredible job.”
The choreography in “Sweeney Todd” is by Ben Deghand and Michael C. Flores. Vocal direction is by Mindy Ramos. The event includes a talk-back session on Oct. 13 where, following the performance, all the cast and crew will take questions from the audience about the process of putting on the production.
A cabaret performance is Oct. 12 and will be immediately following the performance. Original artwork inspired by the show and submitted by local artists will be on view. Admission is by $5 suggested donation.
Vizual Voices will also interpret the show so deaf and hard-of-hearing community members can enjoy the production. These performances are 7 p.m. Oct. 11 and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 20.
Carsten said even though he’s performed in “Sweeney Todd” since it first appeared on Broadway, it’s only now that he gets to play the lead.
“The show had a huge impact on me, as it did just about everybody that was studying musical theater as a career. The score is a dream since it’s so challenging. I’ve always wanted to do this show but when I was younger, I didn’t know what role was right for me. Now that I get an opportunity to play the role, it’s a plum thing that fell in my lap.”
Even though Todd’s lust for revenge leads to much bloodshed, it’s his journey over the edge that makes for an interesting character, Carsten said.
“In our morality plays, we usually try to punish bad deeds and reward good deeds. That’s one of the great things about how this show’s been crafted. He’s a sympathetic character who goes off the rails, a little too far off to be redeemed.”
Carsten encourages readers to attend a performance as seeing a film isn’t quite the same as watching live theater.
“When you’re in the auditorium of a theater, it’s live action happening right before you on stage. It’s a different dynamic and different sensibility for the theater-goer and for the actor on stage. The immediate gratification and reaction and interaction with the audience and the response knowing your performance has affected them and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves is very fulfilling.”