Stories from Sweeney Todd

In early March, the University of Redlands School of Performing Arts presented the Broadway musical, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The show, which was directed by Theatre Department chair Gregory Ramos, alongside musical director Joseph Modica, the Director of the School of Performing Arts and the Conservatory of Music, debuted the weekend of March 10 and closed the following weekend. 

Members of the university and greater Redlands communities, including President Newkirk, faculty, and fellow students, attended the show to support the cast and crew who had worked tirelessly over the last few months to put on such an elaborate production. 

Raine Ohillaren, a first-year Johnston student with an emphasis in Theatre, commented on the significant support the show received. 

“The audience turnout was amazing… I especially loved when we had a high school visit, because they were super reactive, and all wanted to hear from us during the meet and greet after. When we have a reactive audience, our energy is much higher because we feed off their enthusiasm,” she explained.  

Salima Gangani ‘23 also noted the exceptional audience turnout, exclaiming that the show “nearly sold out almost all our performances!” 

Gangani, a Vocal Performance major, played the Beggar Woman and eventually the understudy of Mrs. Lovett, the accomplice and business partner of the main character Sweeny Todd. She commented that the audience turnout played a major role in the show’s success. 

“Having larger crowds that are really invested in the storyline honestly helps the nature of our performance,” she explained. 

Though Gangani has had performance experience in the university’s choral programs, this was her first show in nearly four years due to shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I was honestly terrified,” she said. “The Beggar Woman’s material, both from an acting and musical standpoint, was insanely challenging.” Despite the challenges, Gangani loved her role. “As the Beggar Woman, I was asking and harassing other characters on stage for money, which was honestly one of my favorite parts of the show!” she explained. 

Gangani’s challenges during the production of Sweeny Todd did not end with her role as the Beggar Woman, however. Prior to the initial dress rehearsal, Eden Scrafford, who played Mrs. Lovette, had an emergency that forced her to leave the rehearsal. Fearing that Scrafford could not return, lead directors Ramos and Modica asked Gangani to learn her part as a precaution. 

“To say it was a stressful experience would be an understatement, but it was immensely rewarding. The entire cast was extremely supportive and patient with me while learning a brand new part, making sure to tell me where to go and moving the scenes forward if I dropped a line or was in the wrong spot at any point. Everyone was extremely encouraging and it honestly became one of my fondest memories of the show,” Gangani explained. 

Gangani had nothing but positive memories with her and the cast. “I have to say, it’s truly enjoyable making art in general, but doing it with people as amazing as the ones in this production makes it all the better,” she explained. 

Banners of Sweeney Todd on display.

Mason Hunt ‘24, an Environmental Studies major, echoed the praise of the cast and crew: “My favorite experience about being in the show was being around all the cast and crew. It’s the people that make a show!” he explained. 

Hunt, who played Mr. Fogg and was an active member of the ensemble, has been participating in the performing arts here at the university since 2021. When reflecting on the production of Sweeny Todd, Hunt said: “The shows went really really well! There’s always problems, of course, but nothing absolutely horrible happened.” 

Some of the obstacles Hunt referred to involved a “fair share of musical hiccups, missed cues and mic cut-outs.” The most notable challenges in the show, however, involved a few unforeseen emergencies. 

“We had one actor emergency understudy for TWO parts, and she even had to perform one night because one of our leads was ill. We had one ASM (assistant stage manager) out sick, and had to replace them on the fly, but it worked! One actor had to perform with one hand in a cast,” Hunt explained. 

Despite these challenges, Hunt was incredibly pleased with the outcome of the performances. “We managed through every obstacle that happened,” he concluded. 

Another class of 2023 graduate, AnaMarie Evans, expressed similar challenges. Evans, a Theatre Business major with a minor in Vocal Performance & Business Administration, has been involved in the arts here at the university for the past four years.

Evans, who played Johanna, explained that, like with any production, preparing for Sweeny Todd had its challenges during both rehearsals and the performances. Her biggest obstacle during the show, however, was not the typical bumps in the road. Following the opening weekend, Evans became sick with pneumonia, which put her ability to perform the final set of shows at risk. 

“I was devastated because all I wanted to do was perform my role, but my voice was suffering so bad. I did everything in my power to take that whole week off in order to get back on stage to perform. With the help of my friends, I was able to finish out the show. I am so glad I could since it would have crushed me to not perform with everyone for the last shows,” Evans explained. 

Despite these challenges, Evans was thrilled to be a part of such a supportive cast.

“Being a part of Sweeney Todd gave me more joy than I can express. Getting closer with my cast and the team was wonderful. I absolutely adore everyone involved. We had so much fun, so many laughs were had, and we all truly formed a bond,” Evans said. 

Photos by Charles Convis.


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