Grisly tale of ‘Sweeney Todd’ takes center stage
Putting on a musical at the Cambridge YMCA theater is a daunting task. It’s even more daunting for a company on the foggy bridge between community and professional theater, with limited resources and a less than desirable budget.
In putting on “Sweeney Todd,” the five-year-old Metro Stage Company is thriving despite the challenges.
“It’s fun for us,” said executive producer Chris Teague, “but to do musicals on this stage requires creativity.” Without wings to wait in, the cast enters and exits through the house. Actors walk through the aisles between event chairs to get on stage, and director Paul Farwell has put the chorus in the balcony to avoid obstructed audience views. It sounds sloppy on paper, but in person the variations help create a distinctly fresh interpretation of a familiar story — that of the wronged London barber who takes deadly revenge, with his victims winding up meat pies in the bakery of mad Mrs. Lovett.
It’s a famously grisly musical Stephen Sondheim has written, and Farwell, the cast and crew do everything they can to deliver to the audience. “From the moment [audience members] walk in the door, the gravediggers are roaming around. I’m in the lobby as the undertaker,” Case said. “We want them to feel like this is London and not Cambridge.”
Metro Stage’s can-do attitude extends to casting. The company is able to attract conservatory-trained opera singers and still showcase the city’s young talent. “Our goal is to bring people who have tons of experience and pair them with emerging talent to give a little different experience they wouldn’t receive at another theater,” Teague said.
The restrictions Metro Stage faces putting on a big Broadway spectacle such as “Sweeney Todd” only benefit the performance by bringing the musical back its origins.
“When it was first done, it was a small musical,” said Robert Case, the company’s artistic director. Without extensive scenery or technology, the company can focus its effort on what truly matters: telling a story. “We can’t hide behind big sets and moving set pieces,” Teague said. “We have to tell the story, and break the story down to the heart of it.”
Metro Stage puts on a professional show, and the production, from the cast to the set and costume designers, know what they’re doing. They’re just able to add back some of the charm that comes with the simple burning need to tell a story on stage, and Teague and Case are comfortable with that.
“We do have challenges,” Case said. “We welcome those challenges, and as a result it’s made us a little more cutting edge.”
Metro Stage’s production of “Sweeney Todd” runs at 8 p.m. through Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Cambridge YMCA Family Theatre, 820 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. For tickets, visit metrostagecompany.com or call (866) 811-4111. Their production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” arrives in June.