The historic Royal Theatre in downtown Benton will serve up a taste of dark comedy with the Young Players Second Stage production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Presented by Arvest Bank, the musical opened Thursday and continues at 2 p.m. today; at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and at 2 p.m. Jan. 14.
Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for senior citizens 60 and older, college-age students with a valid student ID and members of the military; and $6 for students ages 3 through high school.
Online purchases are recommended. Tickets can be purchased at www.theroyalplayers.ticketleap.com. To make reservations, call (501) 315-LIVE.
In this infamous tale, Sweeney Todd, an unjustly exiled barber, returns to 19th-century London, seeking vengeance against the lecherous judge who framed Todd and ravaged his young wife. The road to revenge leads Todd to Mrs. Lovett, a resourceful proprietress of a failing pie shop, above which he opens a new barber practice. Mrs. Lovett’s luck sharply shifts when Todd’s thirst for blood inspires the addition of an ingredient into her meat pies that has the people of London lining up for more.
Under the direction of Justin A. Pike of North Little Rock, the creative team for Sweeney Todd includes Daphne Shoppach of Benton and Tanner Ogelsby of Bryant as music directors and Reagan Hammonds of Benton as choreographer. Melissa Glover and Charlotte Hammonds, both of Benton, are co-producers of the play.
“This is such a fantastic show,” said Glover, who has been involved with the Young Players Second Stage (YP2S) for more than five years.
YP2S is a branch of the Young Players program, which began in 2002. Pike and Shoppach founded YP2S in 2013 and presented its first production in January 2014. Pike said the group “exists to provide advanced theatrical opportunities to like-minded, creative young people in the greater-central-Arkansas area.” Actors ages 13 to 23 are eligible to audition and participate.
“The Young Players Second Stage group that make up the cast and crew of Sweeney Todd are the very best our program has,” Glover said. “It’s our high school- and college-age kids, most of whom have been a part of our Young Players program since they were small; we have watched them grow up into the creative talented force they are now. Most of our college-age students are studying theater, music or some type of performing arts and plan to work in this field professionally after college.
“Not only do we get to enjoy the professional level of talent and experience of the college kids, our high-schoolers get to learn from their older peers,” she said. “Additionally, we include a select group of adults in the cast to be mentors to all the students to ensure that everyone has someone to learn from, regardless of their experience level.
“As you can tell, I feel like a proud parent of this group of kids, and I know that Justin, Daphne and Charlotte feel the same way,” said Glover, whose son is in the current show.
Pike, who began participating in shows at The Royal Theatre in 2009 and is now the artistic director at The Studio Theatre in Little Rock, said he has always wanted to direct Sweeney Todd.
“It’s a fun show. It is very unlike the Johnny Depp movie directed by Tim Burton that people may know. The movie version was released in 2007,” Pike said.
“[The play is] dark, but it’s also very funny … campy. It is also not just about meat pies and razor blades. It’s about the political climate at the time …,” he said.
“Steven Sondheim is a genius,” Pike said. “He did not write the book, but he wrote the music and lyrics.
“Sweeney Todd is based on urban legend. There have been several Broadway revivals of the story.”
The late Hugh Wheeler wrote the book Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, based on a 1973 version of the play by Christopher Bond. The 1979 musical received Tony and Drama Desk awards in several categories.
Pike, a native of Conway who has a degree in theater from the University of Central Arkansas, said he has been studying the story of Sweeney Todd for the past 20 years.
“I have been hoping for the opportunity to direct it,” Pike said. “I have lived with it so long, but I really never heard the lyrics, the words. … I didn’t realize how genius it really was. I do now. I understand every little facet of it, every little piece of the puzzle.
“But you don’t have to have studied it like I have to have a brilliant experience watching it. That’s what I want to bring to the audience … a great experience … a thrill.”
Pike said although this is his first time to direct Sweeney Todd, he did appear in a version of it in 2008 at The Weekend Theatre in Little Rock.
“I played the young Sweeney,” Pike said. “I think that was the hardest music I have ever encountered.
“This cast here at The Royal is doing an amazing job with the music. They have learned it, and their lines, in an amazingly short amount of time. This show is dense. … It runs two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission. There is a lot going on in it.”
Koty Mansfield of Benton plays the lead character, Sweeney Todd. Mansfield, a graduate of Benton High School and a senior at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, is scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in theater.
“I grew up here at The Royal,” Mansfield said. “I think I was 8 when I first was in a production.
“My character, Sweeney, is a lot of fun. This show has always been on my to-do list.”
Georgeann Burbank of Conway plays Mrs. Lovett.
Burbank, who graduated from Bryant High School, is a recent Henderson graduate with a theater degree.
“I grew up here, too,” she said, laughing. “Koty and I came [to the Royal Theatre] about the same time.”
Other principal characters include the following:
• Mark Burbank of Conway plays Anthony, a sailor who helps Todd return to London and falls in love with Johanna. Burbank is a graduate of Bryant High School and attends UCA, where he is studying theater.
• Abby Woodward of North Little Rock portrays Johanna, Todd’s long-lost daughter and Judge Turpin’s ward. Woodward is a senior at North Little Rock High School.
• Hannah Blacklaw of Benton appears as Lucy, Todd’s wife, who is thought to be dead but is now a deranged beggar woman. Blacklaw is studying vocal performance at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
• Braxton Johnson of Little Rock appears as Adolfo Pirelli, an Italian barber who is Todd’s rival. Johnson appears regularly on community-theater stages in central Arkansas.
• Ethan Patterson of Little Rock plays Tobias Ragg, an apprentice to Pirelli who finds a surrogate family in Todd and Lovett. Patterson is also a regular on central-Arkansas community-theater stages.
• Tanner Ogelsby of Bryant portrays Judge Turpin, a corrupt public official who is responsible for imprisoning Todd. Ogelsby just graduated from Henderson with a vocal music education degree and now teaches choir/music technology at Bryant High School.
• Payton Justice of North Little Rock appears as Beadle Bamford, a public official who is loyal to Turbin. Justice attends Boston Conservatory at Berklee, where he is studying musical theater.
Members of the ensemble include Meg Amason, Matthew Burns, Luke Ferguson, Matthew Glover, Isabella Hammonds and Reagan Hammonds, all of Benton; Avery Bruce of Cabot; Nathan Clay and Jack Clay, both of Sheridan; Skyla Conger of Haskell; Hannah Hill of Alexander; Emily Johnson and Destiny Marchese, both of Little Rock; and Katelyn Jones, Ryan Lynch, Andrew McBride and Christian Waldron, all of Bryant.
Adult mentors, who are all in the ensemble, include Greg Blacklaw, Sarah Etters Heer and Jamie Partain, all of Benton; Beth Ross and James West, both of Little Rock; and Rita Woodward of North Little Rock.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is produced at The Royal Theatre by special arrangement with Music Theatre International, 421 W. 54th St., Second Floor, New York, NY 10019.