Slice of life

I enjoyed a slice of life as only Sondheim can deliver it last night, attending the first Valley production of “Sweeney Todd School Edition,” which is being performed by Spotlight Youth Theatre in Glendale through Sunday. Folks who hit tonight’s show can enjoy the added thrill of sharing the company’s 2012/13 season reveal.

I ran into director Kenny Grossman after the show. “You’re a brave man,” I told him. “That’s a big show for a small stage.” It only worked because of clever set design — the work of Grossman and Bobby Sample. There’s also serious fun with props, the work of Vicki Grossman. (Think tools of the meat pie trade.)

There’s even a pair of Grossmans in the cast. Carly Grossman is part of the very capable ensemble, and Jamie Grossman completely rocked the role of Mrs. Lovett. Sondheim is a bear to sing, but she’s got both serious vocal chops and delightful comedic timing. The University of Arizona musical theatre program is fortunate that she’s joining their freshman class next year.

A warning to mom and pop Grossman, however. That freshman year sails by. Seems we just sent daughter Lizabeth off to college, and she’s returning next week proud to be a sophomore already. Attend the tale of the empty nest. Several seniors in the cast share college plans in their program bios — including ASU’s Barrett College/Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Tyler J. Gasper, whose program bio notes that he’ll “soon be heading to New York City,” performs the role of Sweeney Todd. Gasper has performed with several Valley theater companies, including Arizona Broadway Theatre, Hale Centre Theatre, Theater Works and Desert Stages Theatre. Gasper’s bio also notes that he’s been cast in the Phoenix Theatre production of “Spring Awakening” so fans will know where to find him.

Several cast members were culled from Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix and the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics in Peoria, including some I saw in another area first — a school production of “Spring Awakening.” This is another “mature content” musical and Spotlight notes that parental guidance is suggested.

Though I wasn’t wild about every element of the show, I felt sympatico with Grossman’s vision the minute I read his director’s statement. “Sweeney Todd, School Edition isn’t about violence and blood,” he wrote. “It is a very complex story about injustice.” Its themes resonate in contemporary American society, consumed by discrepencies between the 99% and the 1%.

“The characters,” adds Grossman, “are emotional and deep.” He advises theater goers to “Focus on the love and tortured souls of the characters” rather than the musical’s violence and blood. Teens will take me to task for saying this, but it’ll be a few years until they fully appreciate the depth of love hidden amidst all that blood. That’s part of the challenge in giving youth such meaty roles.

Grossman’s note also alludes to the humor in this work, which features book by Hugh Wheeler in addition to music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. I’ve seen two previous productions of “Sweeney Todd” and this was the funniest by far — in a good way. My favorite part of the show has always been a song titled “Johanna.” Butcher that and it’s all over in my book. Thankfully, Sam Brouillette (Anthony Hope) does a lovely job with the melody.

Half the fun was hearing reactions of audience members who’ve apparently never seen the musical before. The cumulative effect of revenge gone wrong is shocking in the show’s final scenes, and I enjoyed hearing a good gasp or two. But I was puzzled by the use of head mics in such a small house with actors plenty good at projecting their voices.

Still, I’m hoping folks will support the Spotlight Youth Theatre production of “Sweeney Todd School Edition.” It’s a slice of life that’s hard to find elsewhere, and it took real guts to put it on their menu.

— Lynn

Note: The musical director for “Sweeney Todd School Edition” at Spotlight Youth Theatre is Mark 4Man. Costumes are by Tamara Treat. Hair and make-up is by Angel DeMichael. Please note that although a Monday matinee is listed on their website, your final chance to see the show is Sunday, May 6.

Coming up: Museum meets asylum, Jim Gradillas talks playwriting

Update: Spotlight Youth Theatre’s 2012/13 season includes “The Little Mermaid Jr.” (Oct 26 -Nov 11), “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (Dec 12 – Dec 23), “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Jan 11 – Jan 27), “The Yellow Boat” (Feb 15 – Mar 3), “Once On This Island” (Apr 5 – Apr 21), “Footloose” (May 24 – Jun 6). Weigh in on their Facebook page. Post updated 5/6/12.


7 responses to “Slice of life

  1. You didn’t even mention the lead, Tyler Gasper, who did an amazing job in a very tough role!

    • Jan: Thanks for catching that. Such is the risk of working at midnight. Happy to report that the post has been updated to note Gasper’s Sweeney Todd role. Thanks for reading the blog, and looking out for all those young actors! — Lynn

  2. Michelle Sample

    I think that the young man who played Beadle was perfection. Just the right balance of menance and manipulation. His touch of comedy right before it was his turn to sit in the chair was funny and welcome. The audience certainly showed their appreciation. His name is Connor Sample.

    • Michelle: I love the way everyone notices and appreciates different things in theater–and am so glad you’re all jumping in to share your favorite parts. Thanks for reading the blog, and taking time to share your thoughts on the show! — Lynn

  3. Dear Lynn, thank you for coming to see the show and supporting our theatre. All Youth Theatre’s offer a place for kids to become actors and really appreciate the performing arts. Some of it is good and some of it, not so good. But all of them are important. The actors in Sweeney got plenty of kudos, everyone one of them worked very hard. They also learned and grew as actors and became like a family and forged lifelong bonds and friendships (this is what youth theatre is really all about). I can’t thank you enough for the kind words (and valuable critic) and all of your articles making your readers aware of the valley’s youth theatre community.
    Also, the tears have already started in our house.

    • Kenny: Never fear. They always come home again. And they bring laundry. Thanks for the kind words, and the gracious spirit also reflected in your opening remarks for “Sweeney Todd.” You noted that times are tough for all youth theaters, and encouraged folks to tell friends about Spotlight shows. But then you encouraged them to support all youth theaters, and see lots of other shows too. The arts community is richer for folks who work in the spirit of cooperation. Your hard work and love for your theater family is evident (as is that of your actors, creative team, volunteers and parents). Thanks for helping to give so many young people wings! — Lynn

  4. I saw the closing performance yesterday. The entire ensemble was phenomenal. The entire experience, from house front to scenery to costuming to talent was memorable. Youth theater must be supported. And parents of young performers must play an encouraging role. I plan to tell everyone I see about Spotlight and youth theater in general.

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