Tag Archives: Sondheim

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.

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Sondheim — student style

I’d never really considered the difficulty of singing Sondheim until I watched the second act of ASA’s current production of “Into the Woods.” I’d spent the first part of the evening enjoying a Rising Youth Theatre dress rehearsal, so all the fairytale folly of “Into the Woods” was well underway by the time I got there.

My own stellar singing career consisted of back-up vocals in bars with a bent for country western tunes while working to put myself through grad school. I thought everybody read Kant and Sartre steeped in bowls of stale peanuts, but nowadays I suppose we should be grateful to find folks reading just about anything.

Original Broadway cast recording of "Into the Woods"

If you’re fond of reading fairy tales, you might enjoy the twist on all things “happily ever after” that’s at the heart of “Into the Woods” — a musical featuring book by James Lapine plus music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a writer whose work I’m still exploring in the hot pink “Look, I Made a Hat.”

“Into the Woods” opened at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 1986, where George Takei of “Star Trek” fame opens his new musical “Allegiance” later this year. It moved to Broadway in 1987 with Bernadette Peters in the role of “Witch” and Johanna Gleason in the role of “Baker’s Wife” (the role Amy Adams will rock during this year’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Into the Woods” from Public Theater in NYC).

The Arizona School for the Arts production, directed by Beck (she uses just a single name), was hysterical. Think funny, not frantic. The student cast in the role of Witch did an especially fine job singing Sondheim’s material. I’m hoping they’ll send a program my way so I can share the student’s name and give her proper credit for a truly solid performance.

I was less wowed by the set, built out (perhaps to house student musicians — who also did a stellar job) rather than recessed. I’d have preferred more of a deep, dark forest vibe, but that’s probably just my love affair with trees talking. And I’m about as qualified to design sets as I am to sing in front of even the most intoxicated patrons.

2006 Broadway cast recording of "Sweeney Todd"

Over in Glendale, Spotlight Youth Theatre is performing “Sweeney Todd: School Edition” featuring book by Hugh Wheeler plus music and lyrics by Sondheim. Music Theatre International notes that “Sweeney Todd” was adapted for youth performance by “working directly with Mr Sondheim to retain the dark wit and grand scope of the original work, with a few lyric and key changes to facilitate high school productions.”

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is based on Christopher Bond’s take on “The String of Pearls,” believed by some to be rooted at least partially in historical events. It opened on Broadway in 1979 with a cast that included Len Carious (Sweeney Todd) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Lovett).

Some consider “Sweeney Todd” a tale of ruin and revenge — but I’ve always been more partial to its tender, rather than tenderized, side. A family torn apart. A young man pining for a girl who’s out of reach. A motherless boy seeking to protect a childless woman from harm.

Nowadays, a click of the mouse will get you Johnny Depp when you’d really rather find Sondheim. Fond as I am of Depp’s portrayal of Todd in the 2007 film, I’d be sad to see a generation familiar only with Sweeney on the big screen. Best to enjoy “Sweeney Todd” on stage but get your tickets as well for “Dark Shadows,” where we’ll all be treated to a bit of dracula meets disco as only Depp can deliver it.

Before the musical, there was this book

A final word before you head out to support all those students charged with singing Sondheim — best to leave kids younger than middle school age at home for these shows. “Into the Woods” is best appreciated by adults, though teens also love the fractured fairy tale vibe. And “Sweeney Todd” has mature themes, including murder, that your little one don’t need swimming around in their heads.

I took Lizabeth to see the Arizona Opera production of “Sweeney Todd” when she was barely in the double digits. To this day, she’s fed up any talk about the worst pies in London.

— Lynn

Note: Folks who follow theater can click here for a list of recent Drama Desk nominations, and here for news of this year’s Tony Awards ceremony (nominations will be announced May 1).

Coming up: How groovy is that?

Update: “Sweeney Todd School Edition” is also part of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s 2012-2013 season — which also includes “13,” “Disney’s the Little Mermaid Jr.,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Dear Edwina.”  Click here for details. 5/1/12

Broadway Rocks!

Kaye Tuckerman as Donna in Mamma Mia! (Photo: Joan Marcus)

He’s young. He’s hip. But will conductor Joseph Young don the spandex jumpsuit to conduct a bit of music from “Mamma Mia” featured in this weekend’s “Broadway Rocks!” concerts performed by The Phoenix Symphony?

I think not — but it is fun to imagine all the fashion options knowing they’ll also be playing selections from “Rent,” “Dreamgirls,””Jersey Boys,” “Hairspray” and “Wicked.” Pointy hat, anyone?

The Phoenix Symphony performs “Broadway Rocks!” at Symphony Hall Feb. 24-26 — with a Sunday matinee for those of you who like to take the kiddos to such things but still believe in proper bedtimes.

Jackie Burns as Elpheba in Wicked (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The concerts are perfectly timed for who plan to see “Wicked” at ASU Gammage — which features favorites from “Defying Gravity” to “For Good.” Practice your “toss, toss” hair flipping now so you’re ready for the big night.

“Broadway Rocks” also includes selections from “The Wiz,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Lion King,” “Hair,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Chess.” Even music from “Jekyll and Hyde,” which I’ve always found especially moving.

It features performance by The Phoenix Symphony Chorus as well as three vocalists — Christiane Noll, Virginia Woodruff and Doug LaBrecque. Lovely choices, but I’ll still be missing D. Scott Withers, whose campy “Edna” stylings in the Phoenix Theatre and Arkansas Repertory Theatre productions of “Hairspray” were delicious.

Van Hughes (Johny), Scott J. Campbell (Tunny) and Nicci Claspell (The Extraordinary Girl) in American Idiot (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

Two touring productions of Broadway shows with a rock and roll vibe are headed our way as well. The Theater League production of “Rock of Ages” comes to two Valley venues April 10-15, and the national tour of “American Idiot” comes to ASU Gammage April 24-29.

Come fall, The Phoenix Symphony will present a concert called “Wicked Divas.” It’s being performed Sept. 28-30 as part of their 2012-13 season “Pops Series” — and feature vocalists Ali Mauzey and Nicole Parker, who’ve both performed in “Wicked.” The concert will include music from “Gypsy,” “Ragtime,” “Titanic,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Carmen” and “Wicked.”

Maybe I’ll pass them my short list of favorite Broadway men — say Mandy Patinkin and Andrew Rannells — in case they want to give equal time to a few of the guys. Or they could just make my daughter Lizabeth’s day by bringing out her favorite trio of J. Pierrepont Finches — Daniel Radcliffe, Darren Criss and Nick Jonas.

— Lynn

Note: The 2nd annual “Symphony Stroll,” presented by Phoenix Symphony Allegro, takes place Sat., Feb. 25 from 4-7pm. Click here for details.

Coming up: Art awakenings

Update: The Carolyn Eynon Singers perform “Broadway Showstoppers from Berlin, Bernstein and Sondheim,” with special guest and narrator David Barker, Feb. 24 & 25 at Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale.

Once upon a stage mom

The mother of all stage mothers, “Mama Rose,” has been portrayed by plenty of legendary actresses in stage and screen versions of the musical “Gypsy.” Ethel Merman. Angela Lansbury. Bette Midler. Patti Lupone.

When “Gypsy” opens at Phoenix Theatre next month, Kathy Fitzgerald will perform the role. I’m eager to see it after enjoying Fitzerald’s truly exceptional performance as Madame Morrible in “Wicked” on Broadway last October with my daughter Lizabeth.

Fitzgerald has also performed in “9 to 5,” “The Producers,” and “Swinging on a Star” on Broadway — plus plenty of Off-Broadway and regional theater productions.

Before moving to Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and 12-year-old daughter Hope, Fitzgerald spent seven years performing on Valley stages. So working with Michael Barnard, who’s directing “Gypsy” at Phoenix Theatre, is nothing new.

Phoenix Theatre presents the musical "Gypsy" March 7-April 1

“Mama Rose” is often vilified for pushing her daughters Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc into show business. But Fitzgerald says she admires her “incredible drive and passion,” noting that she “pushed and pushed her girls” hoping to give them options not open to most women during the 1920s and 1930s.

“In some ways,” reflects Fitzgerald, “I respect her stength and tenacity.” Fitzgerald notes that “Mama Rose” did everything for her girls and was, in some ways, a pioneer. “Her life,” says Fitzgerald, “was way more tragic and flawed than it’s depicted in this musical.”

Today’s best known stage moms are another story. Fitzgerald says she has a hard time understanding why the mothers of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms” put their girls through so much melodrama. Seems the pay is poor for cable shows, though plenty of scenes may live on in digital world forever.

Fitzgerald says she’d “never want to be like” the moms who star on “Dance Moms” — whose nasty neuroses and futile fights typically take place in front of their kids. Having issues is one thing. Airing them in front of your children is another. Sharing them with millions of viewers is just plain creepy.

Daughter Hope is plenty busy with her academically rigorous school, according to Fitzgerald, who adds that neither she nor her husband would let Hope do the theater thing at this point. “There’s plenty of time for that later,” quips Fitzgerald.

Her own childhood was a bit different, however. “My dad ran a theater in L.A.,” says Fitzgerland, “and my mom was pretty pushy too.” Though her own mother died when she was just 15, Fitzgerald says “she knew that I was supposed to be an actor.”

Whether you’re a stage mother (in the best or worst sense of the word), or simply someone who enjoys watching others do the stage mother thing, seeing the musical “Gypsy” is a must.

“Gypsy” debuted on Broadway in 1959 featuring book by Arthur Laurents, music by Stephen Sondheim and lyrics by Jule Styne. It was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. It’s based on a memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee.

“Gypsy” is regarded by Fitzgerald and many others as “one of the best musicals of all time.” Its best-known songs include “Let Me Entertain You,” “Together Wherever We Go” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” The music, says Fitzgerald, “is genius.”

— Lynn

Coming up: Trends in marketing Broadway

Toga time?

Don’t be alarmed if you see students parading around in their togas near Theatre Outback, a performing arts venue at Mesa Community College, this weekend — or next.

They’re likely cast members from a mature-theme piece of musical theater called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which combines situations depicted in 2,000 year-old-plays by Plautus with vaudevillian comedy of more modern times.

Mesa Community College opens their production of "Forum" tonight

It’s being performed by MCC’s music department Oct. 20-29. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was originally produced on Broadway by Harold S. Prince. The classic piece of musical theater meets farce features book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, plus music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Seems a slave has been promised freedom in exchange for winning a young woman’s hand for his master — but nothing goes quite as planned. Along the way, audience members enjoy songs like “Comedy Tonight,” “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” and “That Dirty Old Man.” You can take the teens, but leave younger ones at home.

The MCC production includes a cast of 18, many of whom have a long list of credits. The program lists Sue Anne Lucius as producer, Jere Van Patten as director and Cathy Hauan as music director/conductor. Also two choreographers — Frank Cava and Jennifer Cava.

The cast of MCC's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"

The original Broadway production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” — which opened in 1962 — earned several Tony Awards, including best musical and best book. Broadway revivals were staged in 1972 and 1976. There’s also a 1962 musical film version featuring the original Broadway star, Zero Mostel, know to many as Tevye in the original “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is performed infrequently in the Valley, so Sondheim fans and students of musical theater should seize this opportunity to experience the work. Sondheim served as lyricist for both “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” He’s earned an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Also several Grammy Awards and Tony Awards.

Sondheim was both composer and lyricist for the musicals “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods” and more. Even those who fail to fawn over all things Sondheim should appreciate his contributions to the great American art form we call musical theater.

The cast of "Forum" presented by the music department at Mesa Community College

If you’ve never seen “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” attending the MCC production sounds like a fun way to up your musical theater I.Q. Just promise me you’ll leave toga time to the professionals.

— Lynn

Note: The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards solicit nominations each year from the general public and notable public figures, providing the opportunity to submit stories about teachers and professors who made a significant difference in their lives. Click here for details.

Coming up: Tevye tales, Fun finds at the Arizona Humanities Festival

A tale of teen angst

We forget sometimes that the musical “West Side Story” is a modern-day take on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” — a tale of young love thwarted by feuding families and the fickleness of fate.

I tend to think big song and dance numbers set against colorful sets and costumes — which is what I expect the touring production of “West Side Story” to deliver when it hits ASU Gammage Sept 27-Oct 2.

If I snap, will the West Side Story cast jump? (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But I was reminded, after chatting recently with cast member and seasoned television actor John O’Creagh, that it also delivers a powerful portrayal of “the difficulty kids have in defining themselves.”

ASU Gammage says the show is appropriate for ages 13 and up because it “deals with adult themes: violence, murder, rape and bigotry.” It includes “bad language, sexual innuendos and racial slurs.”

“It’s a very powerful work,” says O’Creagh, who describes “West Side Story” as “a very painful show in a lot of ways.” It’s a tough look at teens in rival gangs in New York City — and the challenge of making love survive in an atmosphere of hate.

Ali Ewoldt and Kyle Harris of West Side Story (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The original production of “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957, when Americans commonly judged one another based on skin color, language and the like — something that still happens all too often today. Something else was true both then and now, according to O’Creagh. “Adolescence is a nightmare.”

The original Broadway production of “West Side Story” featured music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins. The script was written by Arthur Laurents, who died earlier this year at the age of 93.

O’Creagh recalls that Laurents attended many rehearsals for this touring production of the show’s 2009 Broadway revival, exploring the show’s characters with cast members who include Kyle Harris (Tony), who holds a BFA from the University of Arizona, and Ali Ewoldt (Maria), who holds a BA in psychology from Yale University.

O’Creagh describes fellow cast members as “sensible, disciplined and hard working.” Not surprising given that they’ve studied at places like The Juilliard School, performed on Broadway in shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Les Miserables,” and worked with dancers like Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp.

Please control the urge to attempt these West Side Story moves until you get home after the show (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But when did O’Creagh first catch the acting bug? While playing Stage Manager in a high school production of “Our Town” — which left him feeling he’d spent his whole life preparing to do acting. “It was comfortable,” recalls O’Creagh. “Acting felt like a good old pair of sneakers.”

So what’s his advice for youth considering the acting life? “Read everything you possibly can,” he says. “Learn everything you possibly can.” Study grammar and language too — because acting is a craft born and carried by words.

— Lynn

Note: Those who attend the Thurs, Sept 29 performance of “West Side Story” at ASU Gammage can stay after for a free talkback with cast and creative team members presented by 99.9 KEZ. Fans of “West Side Story” can also see the Actor’s Youth Theatre production which runs June 26-30, 2012 at Mesa Arts Center.

Coming up: Fall break camps with an arts twist

Recipe for revenge

 

Actors in the dark play Titus Andronicus enjoy lighter moments while rehearsing at the Southwest Shakespeare Company studio in Mesa

Start with one melodramatic nymphomaniac and one well-meaning warrior. Add two offspring — one pristine, another psychotic. Then a few more siblings, and a couple of suitors, from different points along the naughty to nice continuum. Mix in a noble choice with life altering consequences. Finish with generous helpings of rape, mayhem and murder. First simmer, then broil. You’ve got “Titus Andronicus,” Shakespeare’s recipe for revenge.

In modern-day parlance, I suppose “Titus Andronicus” is a sort of “Shakespeare meets SVU.” Or “Sweeney Todd” without the soundtrack. It’s the tale of a good man who snaps — not once, but twice — after his daughter’s violent assault. A downward spiral once harmless grows heinous, then unimaginably evil. But with a surprising montage of humorous moments along the way.

You can enjoy a taste of “Titus” through Sept 24. It’s being performed by Southwest Shakespeare Company at the Mesa Arts Center — inside an intimate theater just right for a work of this intensity. The audience is seated along the two longer sides of a rectangular platform where actors perform at eye level. This violence, though not depicted with traditional blood and gore props, is very much in your face.

The platform touches a single wall, where a collection of swords and masks hang above a simple bench. There’s space off the other end of the platform, near the audience entryway — where some of the action occurs. Folks in the front row on either side of the stage must beware. Accidentally thrust out a foot and Titus could be toast.

Titus is played by Randy Messersmith, head of the theater arts department at Scottsdale Community College, who had me worried early on with his evenly-paced words and movement. Just as Justine Hartley, who plays Goth queen Tamora, took me aback with her diva-like depiction of grief in the opening scene.

Randy Messersmith (kneeling), pictured here during rehearsals with Jesse James Kamps (L) and director David Barker. Messersmith has since lost his shirt and his locks.

But they’re each laying those first bricks in the foundation of a story that needs room to grow. Without all that weeping and gnashing of teeth, it’s hard to envision one woman wreaking so much havoc. And all that civility and calm Messersmith brings to Titus as a triumphant warrior is what makes his demise as defeated father truly tragic.

Part of the intrigue in watching Shakespeare’s work is seeing his characters’ true colors unfold. It’s especially true in “Titus,” where the turn of events leads to truly chilling consequences that might have felt entirely out of proportion in a pre-9/11 world. But we’ve seen more than once just this century alone what can happen when a single soul feels agrieved.

I thought often during “Titus” of my husband and his tender relationship to our daughters, wondering how far he might go in the face of the unfathomable. Dawn Rochelle Tucker, who plays Titus’ daughter Lavinia, transforms the play from an abstract piece of theater to a compelling tale every parent can relate to.

Dawn Rochelle Tucker (L) rehearses with Jesse James Kamps, who plays compassionate brother to a sister mocked and mutilated

Many familiar with Shakespeare would advise the uninitiated to start somewhere else, just about anywhere else, in exploring Shakespeare’s canon. There’s a reason Southwest Shakespeare Company is performing it only now, as the opener for its 18th season.

But this particular production, brilliantly directed and staged by David Barker, is a perfect introduction to Shakespeare. Weighing in at a lean 90 minutes (about two hours counting intermission), it shaves a good hour off the time it takes to enjoy a typical serving of Shakespeare. The plotline is easy to follow for those who don’t have the luxury of brushing up their Shakespeare before attending.

I have mixed feelings about recommending this work for teens. Barker’s vision is beautifully executed — a “must see” in many ways for serious students of the theater. His use of color, shadow and actor-generated sound effects is breathtaking. The costumes, props and lighting prove that less can be more — even, and especially, in a world so obsessed with a constant barrage of stimulation serving no higher purpose. 

I was struck, when first taking my seat, by a row of simple objects that hang or stand along one wall in the theater, just feet from some audience members. A long, tangled rope. Two pairs of tall rods. Several masks and a single white sheet — at first a death cloth, then a royal’s robe.

Producing artistic director Jared Sakren (R) talks with cast members about mask work

All are transformed — often with large black lights mounted high and low along each corner of the stage — into a true feast for the senses. It’s rare to leave a work of theater feeling you’ve just experienced a masterful exhibit of visual arts, but “Titus” makes that impression.

On the other hand, the actions wrought by revenge are hard to stomach. I don’t know that “Titus” is the best choice for teens struggling with serious emotional issues of a much higher magnitude than worrying over what to wear to the prom. But it is a convincing morality tale for a day and age when one act of bullying can too easily escalate into an endless stream of aggression. In most cases, parents and teachers should see “Titus” for themselves before taking younger audiences.

Oediupus had his mommy. Sweeney his lovely wife. And Titus his beloved daughter. But the differences are stark. We never see Sweeney Todd before his decline into revenge ala razor mode. The musical opens long after he’s lost his wife and daughter. In “Titus” we see both the “before” and “after” of a man who opts for sword instead of scissors but brings a similar fate to those around him.

Yet Shakespeare, like Sondheim, also delivers a man who’s just plain evil from the get-go. For Sondheim, it’s Judge Turpin, the man who kidnaps Todd’s fragile wife and daughter. For Shakespeare it’s a Moor named Aaron, who faces death by gleefully confessing his regret for having not murdered many more.

Jeffrey Lamar’s performance as Aaron gives us a glimmer of hope, as he begs for the life of his infant son, that even the most wretched man might have a soul. Still, his final scene left me wanting to run right out and do a Childsplay chaser. Leave the kids at home if you’re going to see “Titus” this weekend, but buy a set of tickets to “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” too.

Titus will leave you wanting more time with your children and the balance of a story with a much lighter touch.

— Lynn

Note: Learn more about Southwest Shakespeare Company, headed by producing artistic director Jared Sakren, at www.swshakespeare.org. “Titus Andronicus” features costume design by Lois K. Myers, lighting design by Daniel Davisson and scenic design by Karen Siefried. All photos by stage manager Kati Long (thanks to her nifty iPhone) and courtesy of Southwest Shakespeare Company. Production photos are available on the company’s Facebook page.

Coming up: From thespian to med student