Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Reimagining a Classic

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Reimagining a Classic

Article excerpt

WPPAC's Sweeney Todd was told after the fact

Jeremy Quinn didn't renovate Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's cherished Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street simply for the fun of it. For the producing artistic director of the White Plains Performing Arts Center, north of New York City, revamping the endlessly restaged musical was necessary.

"My feeling is that if you take something that has a well-known title, that people recognize, it's almost imperative that you do something different with it," says Quinn, who staged WPPAC's Sweeney Todd (Oct. 10-26, 2014). "When directing something that is more of a 'classic,' I like to reinvent it and reimagine it in a way that is more relatable for contemporary audiences. And that's the thing. For a lot of shows, we all know the story, we all know what happens and we all know how it ends."

Of course Quinn didn't rewrite the ending; rather, he altered how it was perceived. For his third time working with the bloodthirsty barber (after a stint in the ensemble during college and one other production as director), he was determined to change how audiences would, indeed, attend the tale. Previously he took a more "traditional" directorial approach, but this time Quinn told the story through the eyes - and memory - of Toby, played by young actor Devin Johnson.

In this interpretation, rather than the streets of London, the play was set in an insane asylum, where audiences met an almost catatonic Toby the day after the murderous events in Mrs. Lovett's Pie Shop basement. As he was carried into the institution, he was greeted by the head doctor and nurse, played by Steven C. Rich and Cassie Hahn, who doubled as Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, in the patient's retelling. As the performance continued, the hospital administrator became Judge Turpin, the security guard was the slimy Beadle and so on. In every scene Toby stayed on the outskirts of the stage, watching and making certain that the action was correct. Accuracy being important, he positioned other characters in their correct places to match his memory of the events.

"[This idea] came from a place of wondering whatever happened to Toby," says Quinn. "At the end of the traditional production, Toby has presumably gone insane and then gets hauled off. But, we don't quite know what happens to him," he explains. …

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