Sunday, June 16, 2024

A rendering of the black box theater coming to 2 Arrow St., in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Image: TruDesign)

The Arrow Street Arts theater replacing Oberon in Cambridge’s Harvard Square gets its first production in October, before construction is done.

The production, by the nonprofit’s resident stage company, Moonbox Productions, is Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

The musical – it’s arguably an opera – is set in London during the Industrial Revolution, where a barber’s murder victims are butchered to fill the meat pies of a neighboring baker. Though the show’s been performed as recently as May, when a Trinity Repertory Co. production ran in Providence, Rhode Island, the Theater Mirror site doesn’t record a Cambridge staging since a one-night pop-up in 2018 at First Church in Cambridge.

Moonbox hasn’t done the Sondheim before, said Regina Norfolk, the troupe’s publicist. “We sit down as a group and go through a ton of different shows and hash out what excites us the most,” Norfolk said. In this case, director Ryan Mardesich “really had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with ‘Sweeney Todd,’ and when he told us, we all got excited.”

The production is expected to run Oct. 13-Nov. 5 in a 4,500-square-foot black box theater with seating for as many as 300 people. The black box then closes for another round of construction, during which a street-front studio with 1,100 square feet and seating for up to 100 is expected to open, according to a Wednesday press release from the nonprofit. Ultimately, the two theaters will be combinable into one large production or event space.

The entire venue is expected to get a grand opening in late spring. Arrow Street Arts is working on renaming it, a spokesperson said. 

The nonprofit has been talking with more than 100 artists and organizations about using its stages, the spokesperson said, calling the venue “much-needed performance, rehearsal and event space.” The Cambridge Community Foundation, a partner of Arrow Street Arts, expects to subsidize local producers using the venue through a dedicated grant program.

The “Sweeney Todd” soft opening of Arrow Street Arts’s black box space will be the first time that the venue at 2 Arrow St. will welcome audiences since Oberon closed in March 2020, at the start of the Covid pandemic. (A farewell event was held in late 2021 to prepare for Harvard moving its theater arts to Allston.) Arrow Street Arts announced its plans for the site in January. 

Construction is in two phases to make sure there’s enough time to account for supply-chain problems and customized orders, a spokesperson said.

In the pause between phases, “Sweeney Todd” will skulk into the black box. “This was pretty much always the plan,” Norfolk said. “We wanted to get the fall production in there, and they knew the way things were moving, it would work out perfectly.”

Coming partway through construction, “Sweeney Todd” will have a “pop-up atmosphere” and an “under-construction feel,” with temporary audience seating and a modified entry from the lobby, Arrow Street Arts said. Getting productions into the theaters during construction allows for real-time feedback from its users.

When done, the theaters in the 11,500-square-foot Arrow Street facility will boast everything from wide, comfortable seats with extended leg room to a sprung floor for dance and post-Covid rebuilt air exchange and ventilation, the press release said.