As this year’s play season winds down, director and professor Tee Quillin, along with the cast and crew, are here to give us Western’s unique rendition of Sweeney Todd.
The musical tells the story of a barber whose family was taken from him by a judge, and the barber, named Sweeney Todd, is assumed dead. Now, back from the grave, Todd goes on a blood-fueled quest to get his revenge upon the judge while simultaneously teaming up with a baker to dispose of his victims by cooking them into meat pies to sell to unknowing customers.
Professor Quillin has long wanted to direct Sweeney Todd and now, after many long months of preparation, will get the opportunity to showcase his work in the Potter Hall Theatre on April 11-14.
“I’ve been working on it since late July,” Quillin said, “contemplating and putting ideas together in terms of how I wanted it to happen.”
The process for Quillin started long before casting when he would slowly but surely start bringing people into the fold in terms of a production team, including a set designer, costume designer, lighting designer and more.
“We had our first actual production meeting right before Christmas and casted around the middle of November,” Quillin said.
Although he has directed over 20 productions, casting was still a challenge when it came to narrowing down who would play certain roles.
“There were some decisions that sort of made themselves. Some people walked in and did the audition and it was just instantaneous,” he said, “but there were a couple of roles that were difficult decisions because of the ability and talent level.”
Adrienne Collins who plays Johanna, the daughter of Sweeney Todd, says that she knew she wanted the role and had memorized every song for the part even before going into auditions.
“Everyone has worked so hard and we’ve become a family working together on this,” Collins said.
When asked what the most rewarding part of the production is, Quillin said, “The show itself. I’ve had those moments when sitting in the theatre, I’ll look up every now and then and I’ll forget that I’m directing it for a little bit. I have to pinch myself to tell myself it’s true because it’s a show I’ve always wanted to tackle.”
The joy of putting the show together comes with a tiring price for Quillin and his cast and crew. In the weeks following up to the performance, he has been spending 18 hours a week or more in the theatre bringing it all together, and as he puts it, being “the captain of the ship.” While practices have been running from six in the evening to 11 at night for the cast and crew, there is truly no rest for the weary when putting a new twist on Sweeney’s popular character.
“We’re doing a little bit of a different take on Sweeney. Most productions I have seen have approached Sweeney as a serial killer out for blood and that’s it. I think there’s a whole lot more to him than that,” Quillin said. “I think the story was written to show there was a human being that was transformed into something else. So that’s what I wanted to show, that he actually has a level of humanity to him.”
After all the work the cast and crew has put into this, Quillin describes their relationship as having the feeling of old friends, and although there will be a sigh of relief for Quillin and his team, there will also be a feeling of something missing in the days following the final performance.
“There’s always a sort of regret to see something you’ve worked so hard on and put literally blood, sweat and tears into just go away,” Quillin said.
Until then, we can all look forward to the talent-filled production and get a taste of Quillin’s vision of Sweeney Todd. It should be a bloody good show.