Because of predicted snow causing cancellation of school activities, the Friday, March 20, evening performance has been moved to the Sunday, March 22, 2 p.m. snow date.
Most people are familiar with the bloody tale of Sweeney Todd, as told by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler in the award-winning Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which debuted in 1979.
This weekend, Ridgefield High School students will bring that story to life, in a somewhat less bloody fashion, and also say farewell to director Joyce Flanagan, in their presentation of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Student Edition.
The show will be presented at Ridgefield High School Friday and Saturday, March 13 and 14 and 20 and 21, at 7:30 pm (snow dates, Sunday, March 15 and 22, at 2 pm).
The musical thriller set in 19th Century England tells the story of Benjamin Barker, once the best barber in London, who, under the alias Sweeney Todd, returns after 15 years imprisonment on trumped-up charges to take revenge on the judge who banished him to get to his wife and is now guardian of their daughter, Johanna. He returns to his old apartment above a failing pie shop run by Nellie Lovett, who tells him his wife committed suicide after his incarceration. The two team up in a most interesting way…
The Ridgefield production will be closest to the original, says Ms. Flanagan, who also notes that the high school edition is slightly shorter and, considering the age range of family members in the audience, “the murders will be subtle.”
The leads are Aidan Meachem as Sweeney, Elizabeth D’Aiuto as Mrs. Lovett, Jonathan Uy as Judge Turpin and Alexandra DiGiacomo as Johanna.
The production marks the final performances at the high school that will be directed by Ms. Flanagan, known to all as “Flan,” a longtime choral teacher who retired from the school last year. She began her Ridgefield teaching career at East Ridge Middle School in 1979, and first became involved in the high school plays as vocal director in 1983. A year later, she became the choral director at the high school and more deeply involved in the school plays, eventually becoming both director and vocal director.
Through the years she has nurtured the talents of numerous students and adult volunteers. Many of the former have gone on to study theater and perform — one is currently in a touring production of Anything Goes and former student Jacqueline Block served as choreographer last year and is assistant director for Sweeney — and many of the latter have stayed far beyond the graduation of their own students; this will be the last high school production for them as well.
When choosing a musical, Ms. Flanagan said, “The choice was always based on the kids coming back, not on what I wanted to do. I looked at the kids in the choir who have the strong voices — what are their ranges? I’d think of three or four young men and women who could play the leads and what the orchestra could handle. I would mentally go through four or five shows during the summer before making the choice for the following year.”
The Sweeney production involves a cast of 30, with 24 in the orchestra under the direction of Albert Montecalvo, who is also the conductor of the Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra Wind Ensemble, a dozen students on the stage crew, eight on lighting and sound, and many more helping with costumes, makeup and tickets and promotion.
“I have been very fortunate to have had Ruth Wilder Feldman as my producer and our adult volunteers are fabulous — can’t do a show without them. But they get something out of it too; we never had a hard time getting volunteers.”
Ms. Wilder Feldman is a seven-year volunteer. Other longtime volunteers who will be concluding their involvement with the high school productions are Don and Linda Murphy who began working on the plays in 2001 when their daughter was a freshman and worked on set construction. Don has been the set-director/designer since 2003, while Linda has helped on sets, sewing, programs, etc. Also departing will be pit orchestra conductor Albert Montecalvo, who’s worked with shows since 2000; costume directors Jeannine Carr and Molly Cook, since 2007 and 2009, respectively; Lydia Pensa, who has had many roles from producer to make-up designer; and Elaine Gordon, who has helped build the sets for more than a decade.
Reflecting on her years working on plays at Ridgefield High, Ms. Flanagan said, “It has been an honor and privilege to work with these talented kids; they take it seriously and I will miss them. Musical theater is not easy to do well; you have to pay attention to detail, put in weeks and weeks of work, hours behind the scenes, but it is very rewarding and exciting to do, to be a part of, to see how a show comes to fruition. There is nothing like the feeling you get when the curtain goes up the first time. I am going to miss it. I love the musical theater and hope to continue in some other way.”
Ridgefield High School is at 700 North Salem Road. Tickets are $10 general admission and sold at the door. Senior Ridgefield residents with a Gold Card may enjoy one show for free. Tickets go on sale at 6 and the doors open at 7. The show is rated PG-13, parental discretion is strongly advised. For more information, visit rhsperformingarts.info.