As you enter the Sterling Farms recreational complex on your way to Curtain Call’s Kweskin Theatre, you pass by two restaurants: The Royal Green and the Players Club. You might want to stop at one of them for a last meal before attending the theater’s current offering, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, which begins performances Friday night and runs through Saturday, October 15, with special Thursday night shows on October 6 and 13. Though you’re likely to be entertained by Sweeney’s gripping mix of murderous mayhem and suspiciously delicious meat pies, you might not have much of an appetite after the show!
Sweeney Todd, with direction by George Croom and music direction by Greg Chrzczon, opens Curtain Call’s 21st season of presenting live theater. The Tony Award winning musical is a nod to the grisly thrillers of the Grand Guignol, the theatrical precursor to today’s horror films. But, along with chills and suspense, the musical delivers one of the most challenging scores in recent Broadway history. So, between the vocal demands of the music and the physical demands of staging its blood-soaked story, Sweeney can be tough to perform.
That’s where George Croom’s varied experience as a director, choreographer and music director comes into play. To date, Croom has headed up hundreds of productions of musicals that ranged from simple toe-tappers like 42nd Street and Damn Yankees to sophisticated fare like West Side Story, Assassins and the Off-Broadway premiere of The Scarlet Letter. This is the third musical that he has directed for Curtain Call and Croom’s second crack at Sweeney Todd.
PATCH: So, you’ve directed Sweeney Todd before?
CROOM: It was last summer in White Plains. One of the biggest problems that we had then was the budget. We didn’t have one! But, how do you tell the story without the trappings that Sweeney usually has? We did it with a white set, everyone dressed in black, 10 white chairs and 1 red one. Everything was suggestive. It gave the story focus.
PATCH: How are you staging the show at Curtain Call?
CROOM: It’s kind of an embellishment of what I did the last time. We’re able to do more effects. But, it’s still very stark.
PATCH: Most of Sweeney Todd is told through Stephen Sondheim’s score. As a director, how do you handle all of that music?
CROOM: Having a musical background certainly helps. I can stage scenes and play the piano while the music director also works with one of the actors. But, the fact that I’m also an actor gives me an advantage. That sensibility really helps me to talk to other actors. To figure out, if I was standing there, what I would need a director to say to me.
PATCH: Your cast is drawn from so much of the surrounding area. What is it about Sweeney that inspired actors from all over Western Connecticut and Westchester to want to be in it?
CROOM: There’s so much depth to Sweeney that smart actors gravitate to it. They want to sing the music -- which is probably the most brilliant score in musical theater, period. It’s a lot to throw yourself into. But, there are very few shows that give you that opportunity.
PATCH: Do you think the musical comments on the times that we’re living in today, where a poor economy sometimes causes people to do extreme things? Is the show a warning?
CROOM: Let’s hope it’s not a warning! I think that the show says that anybody is capable of anything if the wrong buttons are pushed. Everyone has it in them to go to these dark, dark places. All of the characters do what they do out of revenge and lust, but mostly out of love. Sweeney wants revenge because he’s been taken away from those he loves. Mrs. Lovett does everything because she loves Sweeney. In a bizarre way, that’s the underlying theme. And if you’re desperate enough for that love, you will take it to extremes.
Sweeney Todd will be presented in Curtain Call’s Kweskin Theatre, 1349 Newfield Avenue, Stamford, from September 16 through October 15. For more details or tickets, visit www.curtaincallinc.com or telephone 203-461-6358 ext. 13.