Washington County Playhouse to perform popular musical 'Sweeney Todd'
Revenge will be served piping hot when the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater’s 35th season continues with Stephen Sondheim’s thriller “Sweeney Todd — The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
The popular musical will run for 10 performances, beginning Friday, Sept. 13 and continuing through Oct. 27.
“Sweeney Todd” has become a bloody, worldwide success since being awarded eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical for its Broadway premiere.
Sweeney Todd, an unjustly exiled barber, returns to 19th century London, seeking vengeance. 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 integration of an ingredient into her meat pies that has the people of London lining up.
Director Scott Rubie of Hagerstown, said he thinks the audience will like the “darkness and dark humor” of the production.
He said this show, like other Sondheim pieces, can be very challenging but he is impressed with the incredible amount of “beautiful” and “precise” sound that comes out of the 16 actors that have taken on the task of learning the difficult music.
“Our cast is so incredibly talented and filled with so much musical background and experience that they picked up on the music very well early in the rehearsal process,” Rubie said.
The title character is played by Jeff Clise of Hagerstown, who is the director of music at Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church in Williamsport, Md. Audiences might remember Clise as Chef Louis in the Playhouse’s production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.”
Clise describes Sweeney Todd as full of rage and said he isn’t truly the villain in this show.
“He is really a victim intent on revenge that has been easily manipulated. Yes, he has done some evil things, but all in the name of revenge. He loses all he holds dear so he figures he has nothing else to lose,” Clise said.
Clise has always enjoyed playing villains but he said tapping into the single-minded rage that Sweeney has, has been the most difficult part of playing the role.
“But that challenge of finding that deep rage has also been the most enjoyable thing about playing him,” Clise said.
Mrs. Lovett is portrayed by Stephanie Allee of Fayetteville, Pa., who took on the role of Morticia Addams when the Playhouse produced “The Addams Family” in September of 2017.
“Stephanie is a brilliant actress and it is an honor being onstage with her. Her character work is superb. And she helps ground me and keep me focused as a friend and fellow actor,” Clise explained.
Allee said she and Clise have known each other for quite a long time, and that it’s nice to play opposite of him.
“We already have a rapport. It makes it a lot more comfortable for those serious scenes,” Allee said.
She said she was not expecting to get the role when she auditioned for the show.
“The role came as a complete shock,” Allee said.
She describes Mrs. Lovett as a dark character which she said is a departure for her, but she likes that the character has some comedic elements.
“It is such a dark show and most of the show’s comic relief comes from her because she is crazy,” Allee said.
This is Allee’s first time doing a Sondheim show and she said it is the most mentally challenging show she has ever done.
“Simply because of all the words you have to memorize and he has said in his interviews that (Lovett) needs to be played by an actress that sings, but she sings more than any other character in the show,” Allee said.
Added Rubie, “Jeff Clise, who plays Sweeney, and Stephanie Allee, who portrays Lovett, have been an absolute joy working with to create these iconic characters here for all to see at the playhouse.”
Allee said Rubie has a unique vision for the show which she described as “very minimalistic.”
“Because the Washington County Playhouse is a smaller space, the actors will be all around you so it will be a very immersive experience,” Allee said.
The evening will begin with audience members enjoying a buffet meal beginning at 6 p.m. followed by the performance that starts around 7:30 p.m.
The show opens Friday and runs every Friday and Saturday evening through Oct. 26. The final performance is the sole Sunday matinee on Oct. 27, with the meal beginning at 1 p.m.
Several performances are already sold out.
“This is a show not to miss. With only 10 scheduled performances it will sell out quickly, so get your tickets today,” Rubie said.
Tickets are $49.50 and include salad bar, hot buffet, dessert, coffee, tea and iced tea. The bar tab and gratuity are not included.
For tickets, visit washingtoncountyplayhouse.com or call 301-739-7469.
The historic Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater, which has been recently remodeled, is located at 44 N. Potomac St.
Top photo: Left, Stephanie Allee as Mrs. Lovett, and Jeff Clise as Sweeney Todd in the upcoming production of “Sweeney Todd — The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” (Submitted photo)