It’s an unlikely musical to be performed by a high school drama department – the gruesome story of a barber out for revenge: lopping off the heads of residents in Victorian London and enlisting his neighbor to bake the victims into meat pies.
But the drama department at University High School staged “Sweeney Todd” last October and November. Those who saw the musical raved about the production quality and the actors’ performances.
Now, the play is being honored by the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle. Once a year, the theater holds an awards ceremony similar to the Tony Awards to recognize the hard work and passion of high school drama departments.
The play has been nominated for seven awards and received an honorable mention for another.
Briane Green, U-Hi drama department adviser, said she invited representatives from Seattle to see the play, but the group didn’t talk much about it since she didn’t want the idea of an award to distract the students.
“(I wanted them to) keep doing the art we like to do,” she said.
Green said she always wanted to do a production of “Sweeney Todd,” a story of revenge without forgiveness. She cast the play at the end of the school year and students started working on the scenery during the summer months.
She said it occurred to her early on that the play could contend for the awards.
“My school is this good,” she said.
Students have been doing edgier material this year: along with “Sweeney Todd” they performed “The Miser” by Moliere and “Of Mice and Men,” which has some objectionable language. Green said her students can handle the material.
“Students are capable of showcasing the art in the appropriate fashion,” she said. “We have so much talent at the high school level now.”
That talent includes senior Jordan Taylor, who has been nominated for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
“I am Sweeney Todd,” he said. The role was a departure from other roles he’s played on stage – he was Danny Zuko in “Grease” and Smokey in “Damn Yankees.”
Taylor is looking forward to not only performing at the ceremony – the cast will perform “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” – but also seeing students from other schools perform.
“I’m excited to see the competition,” he said.
Many of those students have also competed against Taylor at state choir competitions throughout the year. Taylor took first place at the state solo and ensemble competition as a baritone.
Ross Mumford, a junior, is nominated for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. He played the role of Anthony, a young sailor who journeyed to London with Todd on the same boat and ended up falling in love with Todd’s daughter.
“The one with the best songs,” he joked.
Mumford is also excited to check out the competition and is happy to be included in the nominations.
“It feels really cool,” he said. “It’s cool just to be nominated.”
Nick Kim, a senior, designed the set and Tyler Pursch, another senior built it. The two had to complete the project over the summer and have it ready to go when rehearsals began since they both had roles in the play, as well. Their work earned them a nomination for Outstanding Scenic Design.
Kim said he was in Green’s English class when she noticed his aptitude for art. She recruited him as a set designer and he had to learn what works on the stage as opposed to art that is seen close up.
Each piece has to be big without a lot of close up detail.
“People don’t see that stuff,” Kim said.
Pursch is looking forward to the trip and spending time with the cast and crew.
“I wasn’t expecting it, to be honest,” Pursch said. “It’s nice to be back together with the crew.”
Green said the school has been supportive of the nominations, scheduling buses to take the students to Seattle so they can perform at the ceremony. She said they argued that if the football team went to state, they would send them, too.
She said that now the school year is almost over, she’s planning for next year, when the department’s musical will be, “Oklahoma!”