October 27, 2008

Case Footlighters' production of Sweeney Todd is an integration of engineering and the arts

Gruesome "musical thriller" is student-run theater group's fall production, just in time for Halloween


Stephen Sondheim's macabre musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, will be presented by Case Western Reserve University's student-run theater group, the Case Footlighters, just in time for Halloween. There will be four performances: Thursday through Saturday, October 30-November 1, at 8 p.m., and another performance on November 1 at 11:59 p.m. All performances will be held at the Carlton Commons on campus, 11892 Carlton Road. The production is being directed by Nicholas Badger, a second-year mechanical engineering and German studies major.

Not only are students producing, directing and starring in the production, many of the engineering majors in the group are also building the set and props, including the infamous barber's chair where Sweeney Todd performs his evil deeds.

"Nowhere on campus is engineering being more integrated into the arts as it is for this production," said Bradley Hughes, a third-year electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) major. "We have produced successful shows in the past, such as Chicago and Beauty and the Beast, but Sweeney Todd is one of the most difficult sets to build, especially if you want to make it as realistic as possible."

Hughes, who also serves as the Footlighters' lighting director and Henry Snow, the Footlighters' technical director, are building the barber's chair, which will operate on pneumatic actuators in order to cause the victims to fall into Todd's basement. When a customer reclines in the chair, his weight causes the back to collapse out of the chair causing the victim to tumble into the basement below. The barber's chair resets and is ready in no time for the next victim.

Working 12 hours a day, the entire set took 10 students four days to build.

"The set is huge," Hughes said. It contains 8-foot 2x4's (150); 3/4-inch sheets of plywood (35); 16-foot 2x6's; and 15 lbs. of 3-inch screws.

The prop knives that will be used to "slit" the barber shop customers' throats are just as sophisticated. Created by graduate student Jon Beno of mechanical and aerospace engineering, the CO2 -powered knives will be used in conjunction with fake blood to simulate the killings.

"There will plenty of fake blood," Hughes said.

Often referred to as a musical thriller, Sweeney Todd is Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's chilling, suspenseful, heart-pounding story of murderous "barber-ism" and culinary crime in 19th century London. This infamous tale chronicles the antics of the barber Todd, who, after escaping from prison, seeks vengeance on the lecherous judge who framed him on trumped-up charges and ravaged his young wife. His thirst for blood soon expands to include his unfortunate customers, and with the help of Mrs. Lovett, baker of the "worst meat pies in London" in the shop downstairs, the judge meets his doom. In the process, Todd and Lovett discover the secret ingredient that turns the worst pies into the tastiest pies in London.

Sophisticated, macabre, visceral and uncompromising, Sweeney Todd nevertheless has a great sense of fun, mixing intense drama with howlingly funny moments of dark humor. Audiences find themselves laughing one moment and gasping in surprise the next.

Undergraduate students Stephen Berg, a theater major, and Alana Sealy, a music major, star as the leads, Sweeney Todd and his accomplice, Mrs. Lovett.

Admission to Sweeney Todd is $5 for Case Western Reserve students and for students from other area universities and high schools (with ID), and $10 for non-students and the general public. Parental discretion is advised for children.

For more information contact Laura M. Massie, 216.368.4442.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, October 27, 2008 08:49 AM | News Topics: Arts & Entertainment, Case School of Engineering, College of Arts and Sciences, Events, HeadlinesMain, Students, Technology, features

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