BRADLEY HARRIMAN stars as the title character in Lisbon High School’s production of “Sweeney Todd.”

BRADLEY HARRIMAN stars as the title character in Lisbon High School’s production of “Sweeney Todd.”

LISBON

Students at Lisbon High School will attempt a musical this weekend that may prove to be a cut above the rest.

LHS Drama Club will present “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: School Edition,” premiering Friday night and running through Sunday.

Just in time for Halloween and set in the darkest parts of 19th century London, “Sweeney Todd” recounts the revenge of barber Benjamin Barker — who assumes the identity of Sweeney Todd — a man falsely imprisoned who suffered the loss of his family. Using a straight edge and barber’s chair as the means to his revenge, Barker finds an unlikely ally in Mrs. Lovett, a baker who cooks up a scheme to dispose of Todd’s growing number of victims.

MEMBERS OF THE CAST of the Lisbon High School production of “Sweeney Todd” in the left photo. On the right, Arianna Thibeault as Mrs. Lovett, along with one of Sweeney Todd’s victims during rehearsal at Lisbon High School.

MEMBERS OF THE CAST of the Lisbon High School production of “Sweeney Todd” in the left photo. On the right, Arianna Thibeault as Mrs. Lovett, along with one of Sweeney Todd’s victims during rehearsal at Lisbon High School.

Todd/Barker is performed by Lisbon High School senior Bradley Harriman, who himself wears different hats at school. In addition to playing the title character, he is also a running back captain of Lisbon’s football team, which is in the middle of its season.

 

 

“It’s busy,” Harriman said during a recent rehearsal. “I do what I can here and then I go to practice, and then I come back to rehearsal (again).”

Harriman has been acting since his sophomore year, and said he’s always tried to “bridge the gaps” between different high school cliques.

“You don’t see a lot of athletes doing the drama stuff,” he said.

Portraying an antihero consumed with revenge who teeters on the edge of madness is a whole other matter, however.

“Some of the time’s he is split from what his actions are,” Harriman said. “So the emotions have to show the opposite of what his actions are. There’s one scene where he’s killing a bunch of people, yet he’s singing joyfully.”

To prepare, Harriman said he’s watched both the Broadway version as well as the 2007 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as Todd.

“You get a feel of how different people have portrayed him,” Harriman said, noting he’s doing more to try to make the role his own.

Harriman plays opposite of Arianna Thibeault, who portrays Mrs. Lovett.

“She’s great,” Harriman said. “She plays a very good Mrs. Lovett. We give each other a lot of energy back and forth — creepy, loving weirdness.”

“I think her flirtatiousness with Sweeney is kind of funny,” Thibeault said, describing Mrs. Lovett. “She always talks about how warm, and fuzzy and loving she is, but she makes people into pies. It’s kind of ironic.”

Thibeault, also a senior, said she found the role challenging, because Mrs. Lovett’s obnoxiousness is different from her own, admittedly shy, persona.

“It was difficult to get into character,” Thibeault said, “but it’s easy now.”

To get into character, Thibeault said she drew on her training to “step out of your own personality” and step into that of a character. She’s able to do that thanks to the support of everyone in the drama club.

“Theater, for me, is a safe space,” Thibeault said. “Everybody involved is very supportive. We’re all in the same thing together. You don’t have to be embarrassed to be a certain character or do certain things.”

“There’s a place for everyone,” said Jennifer Fox, who is a fine arts and theater teacher at Lisbon High and the drama club adviser. “There are actors, and singers, and designers, and lighting people and crew. It brings together a group of students that would not otherwise get together. The lead in the show is the captain of the football team. For him to get together with the tech club or art club would be rare, unless they came together in this environment. That’s something they can carry with them when they leave here.”

The whole point of this undertaking is to give a gift to the audience, Fox said, through which the students can derive some joy and satisfaction. The community can, in turn, support the students by attending their shows.

Theater in education is important, Fox said, because of what it imparts on students who are on the cusp of adulthood. Students also learn skills on the stage, Fox said, such as self-expression and the power that comes from taking on a challenge. And “Sweeney Todd” has plenty of challenges for a student production.

The set is a volunteer effort by students led by Fox, representing hours and hours of work to capture the mood of London in the 1800s, particularly Todd’s barber shop and Lovett’s adjacent pie shop. The period costumes are also made at the school.

“Everything you’ll see is months and months of preparation,” Thibeault said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that.”

The music by Stephen Sondheim has also been challenging for many of the cast. Sondheim’s music is layered and a little chaotic-sounding and discordant, in keeping with the themes of “Sweeney Todd.”

“Most of the kids are not in chorus and don’t read music,” Fox said. “We’re having our music teacher, Jonathan Carsley, volunteer to help with that. But it’s still a challenge.”

Students are also learning to adopt an English accent.

“I have a rule at the beginning of the show that everyone has to speak in an English accent during rehearsal,” said Fox. That rule applies to the cast, crew and herself. “That’s so they listen and imitate each other and sound consistent. … It makes it a little more believable.”

Neither Harriman nor Thibeault said they were familiar with “Sweeney Todd,” which premiered on Broadway in 1979 and is rooted in urban legend and the penny dreadfuls of the 1800s.

“When (Fox) described it to me as a ‘great play of death and cannibalism,’ I was like, ‘Awesome, sounds great,’” Harriman said, a little wryly.

Some of the more graphic elements of the original version have been tempered, but the Fox notes that the production is still not for everyone, with certain effects represented “more artistically than literally.”

“Perfection is not the goal,” Fox said. “The goal is to get the kids to have a really great experience, and to give something to their community — a scary, funny, dark comedy.”

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: School Edition” runs Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 through Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at Lisbon High School, 2 Sugg Drive, Lisbon Falls. Performance times are 7 p.m. Oct. 27-28 and Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8 for the general public, and are $5 for students and senior citizens. Tickets can be purchased at the door starting 45 minutes prior to the performance. This show is not suitable for young audiences, parental discretion is advised.

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