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“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at The Cabrillo Playhouse


The Tony Award Winner for Best Musical and Olivier Award Winner for Best New Musical, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler comes to life at The Cabrillo Playhouse. 


By: MaryAnn DiPietro


“A musical where a barber cuts people up and makes them into pies…” is basically how Stephen Sondheim summarized the humorously dark musical he was working on at the time, many moons ago when he appeared on The Johnny Carson Show. Michael Lopez, watching this episode, immediately became captivated. He promptly purchased the cast album and listened to its haunting melodies on repeat. 


Michael Lopez is playing dual roles as both the director of this production, and Artistic Director of The Cabrillo Playhouse. Michael will be celebrating his tenth anniversary in this position later this year. He typically directs two to three times a year at the Playhouse, including the theatre’s annual production of “Rocky Horror Show.” Despite his background as a seasoned choreographer, Michael acknowledges that “Sweeney Todd” is less about intricate dance sequences and more about the music, with about 80% of the show being sung. 

From Left: Anthony Hope and Reese Chavez

Often thought of more as an opera than a traditional musical, “Sweeney Todd” tells the thrilling story of Benjamin Barker, who attempts to resume work in his barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s struggling pie shop after being wrongfully sentenced to life imprisonment by the corrupt Judge Turpin. After swearing vengeance against the judge who tore his family apart, Barker, along with Lovett, plot a unique plan that helps them both and leads them down a dangerous path with deadly consequences.


Set against the backdrop of Victorian London, “Sweeney Todd'' won The Tony Award for Best Musical and The Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It has been reimagined for the stage multiple times and was also adapted into the 2007 film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as Todd (Oscar Nomination and Golden Globe Award), Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin, and Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Pirelli. The film was well-received and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.


Currently playing on Broadway, “Sweeney Todd” opened its third revival in 2023, starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford. Recently, Aaron Tveit and Sutton Foster have stepped into the leading roles. Michael Lopez says that there are few similarities between the grandeur of the Broadway production in contrast to the unique, intimate showing at The Cabrillo Playhouse. 


Dedicated to pushing the boundaries of the theatre, Mr. Lopez is always up for a challenge and seeking innovation, which played a role in choosing “Sweeney Todd” for their current season. 


Michael says he, “…is always trying to move the theatre forward, do things differently than in the past. Every year there is always something to improve on…bigger shows or just something that the audience doesn’t expect…” Speaking of size, “Sweeney Todd” is no small feat and the physically modest size of the stage posed the biggest challenge for Michael, which he confronted head-on. This year, he decided to enlist the talents of a scenic designer, which Cabrillo Playhouse had never done before. Rebecca Rubino joined the team in this position and was able to imagine the stage in a new and different way. “I love that. It totally works. All of the different scenes work. You get the feeling of where you are and where you need to be,” Michael says in regards to her designs. Rebecca will be designing the entire season for Cabrillo.

From Left: Jason Livesay and Laura Hart

In addition to utilizing the largest sets they have ever used, this show also has the largest cast they have ever had -sixteen in total. Michael says the ensemble plays a pivotal role in the storytelling of this production, something that the film, in his opinion, lacked. Putting together the cast, sets, intense score, and movement where one cast member may be singing and moving differently from the character next to them just adds to the wow factor. Michael admitted to thinking initially they wouldn’t be able to do this large of a show and then “…wow, the first time they blocked the very first number the singers were just fantastic!”


Sondheim is known for his challenging arrangements, intricate compositions, and thematic layers. Michael loves his use of the double meanings of words and the overall cleverness of the music. “The orchestration and sound of the music is just beautiful!” Michael expresses his favorite parts of the show. This show is emotionally and psychologically deep with themes of revenge and obsession. He hopes that the audience understands that there is more than one layer to the characters of Todd and Lovett and that they enjoy what The Cabrillo Playhouse has baked up for them.


MaryAnn DiPietro is an actor, singer, pianist, and writer.


“Sweeney Todd”

The Cabrillo Playhouse

202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente, CA

April 19-May 12, 2024

(949) 492-0465,  www.cabrilloplayhouse.org

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