Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
SF Bay Area Theater Company and 4th Walrus Productions
at the Exit Theatre, San Francisco (July 2015)
Directed and Set Design by Ken Savage
Music Directed by Joel Chapman
Inspired by the slums of London and the Tenderloin of San Francisco, our production of Sweeney Todd explored how a microcosm of people, within a metropolitan city, struggles against the corrupt justice system run by the social elite. It is a bloody show about the cycle of violence sparked by love and perpetuated by our human desensitization to punishing the guilty. To do this musical right now in the Exit Theatre within this community that has been marginalized and branded as a containment zone in San Francisco has been a serendipitous experience. Historically a neighborhood to contain San Francisco's various "unwanted" populations, the Tenderloin is not only a hotbed of crime but also and most admirably a proud community of survivors: refugees, the homeless, various elderly, veterans, the mentally ill, prostitutes, drug dealers, struggling business owners, juvenile delinquents, etc. The Tenderloin is the closest thing we have to Sweeney's London. Sweeney Todd is a reminder that no one is safe from the cycle of violence and any of us given extraordinary circumstances and intense passion can become either a hero or a murderer. Sometimes the line between the two is blurry.
Aesthetically, the design of this production is centered on "thrift." As a design team we sought to create an environment that evoked the rugged, raw, and uncomfortable feelings that an outsider feels when walking around the Tenderloin to get to the theater. Much of this design including set and costumes are found objects, repurposed for different scenes and locations to highlight how thrifty and creative those who live in this neighborhood must be to persevere. This departure from the "traditional" Victorian aesthetic of Sweeney Todd has been a refreshing access point for us to modernize this musical to dialogue with contemporary social issues surrounding crime, justice, and power.