The Hippo


Jul 16, 2019








Sarah Souter as Mrs. Lovett and Matt McGonagle as Sweeney Todd. Courtesy photo.

See Sweeney Todd

Where: Concord Auditorium, 2 Prince St., Concord
When: Friday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 22, 2 p.m.
Admission: $20
Contact:, 228-2793

Years in the making
Concord players go all out with Sweeney Todd

By Kelly Sennott

Sarah Souter and Matt McGonagle began studying their Sweeney Todd characters in a UNH musical theater workshop 25 years ago. They were classmates, one grade apart, and they considered the play’s lead characters among their “ideal roles,” even as 20-something-year-olds.

“So these characters are 25 years in the making,” Souter said before a recent Community Players of Concord rehearsal for Sweeney Todd. “It’s so complicated and funny, but it’s dramatic. It’s got so many levels.”
McGonagle, lacing up his leather Sweeney Todd boots, said timing kind of worked out perfectly for the pair, who also played opposite one another in Spamalot two years ago. He thinks you need life experience to really understand this emotionally charged show. 
“A lot of musicals are written more for fluff, but this has a lot more meat to it,” McGonagle said. “Every year you live, you have another whole year of life experiences you can bring to a character. … I’m 45, so I’m older in terms of musical theater actors, but ... I think an older [actor] should play this role. It’s so deep and complex.”
Sweeney Todd is not often done by community theater, as it also requires magnificent sets, props and special effects — you need to be able to produce scenes in which Sweeney slits barber clients’ throats and sends them through a chute without actually killing anyone. Plus, the music’s exceptionally difficult. Adam Boroskas said he’s musically directed 60 different shows, but this is the only one he’s ever had to practice for.
“It’s a unique show because it’s 95 percent sung,” Boroskas said. “Stephen Sondheim is just a complicated composer, and he considered this show like his swan song. This was the big show in his career.”
The musical is based on the 1973 play Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond and is set in 19th-century England. With music by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, it hit Broadway in 1979, London in 1980, and won the Tony and Olivier awards, respectively, for Best Musical and Best New Musical.
The play is about the return of Sweeney Todd to London after 15 years of exile to take revenge on the corrupt judge who banished him. He conspires with a local baker, Mrs. Lovett (played by Souter), who is need of fresh meat for her pies. 
Some members of the Players, like show producer Bob Pearson, have been wanting to do Sweeney Todd for years, but they couldn’t because of cast, set and budget requirements. They decided to take a chance this year when Wally Pineault agreed to direct. 
“You need some really polished singers, and we thought, we’re really putting our neck out. We hope [actors] show up,” Pineault said. 
Luckily, they did show up. The cast is made up of 23 actors, and they perform with the help of eight crew members dressed as factory workers and a nine-piece orchestra. 
Pineault designed sets to look almost identical to the original Broadway production. All the buildings are painted as though they’re made from distressed wood, with exposed bricks peeking through. 
During this run-through, a “dead body” wrapped in a taupe sack sat on the stage floor and a silhouette of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben stood in the backdrop. The pie-baking oven painted to look like rusting steel sat at the stage’s edge, and factory gears ran up the wall alongside it.
The most complex piece, Pineault said, was the bakery and barbershop that sat atop it, complete with a chair and person-chute. Pineault designed and built it with the help of several crew members, and he recruited fellow Player Scott Aubertin to engineer a knife that causes its victims to bleed without breaking the skin. 
The musical is not for kids — it’s about hatred and anger, and there’s blood and death and people being mashed into meat pies, plus people who love to eat these pies. But Pineault thinks it’s worth seeing because, despite his worries, a great cast turned up.
“We lucked out. We really did,” he said. 

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