Tickets are available for this production of Sweeney Todd
Update at 12:39 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12
The Board of Education decided Monday that the show will go on despite some protests from parents. Read about it and see a video here on the Bethany/Woodbridge Patch site.
Some parents and community organizations in the Amity school district were planning a protest Monday at the Board of Education meeting for what they call a "despicable" decision. The protest, made public in an announcement posted on Patch, questions the high school Drama Department's musical production choice, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
The announcement was posted by Laura Carroll, a first time contributor to Patch, with the (needlessly graphic and misleading) headline: "Violence Continues at Amity High School."
Ms. Carroll states:
"Amity High School students are assigned and taught to perform the horrific acts of gruesome murder, cannibalism, rape, suicide, etc."
"Our children and communities are still going through the effects of the Sandy Hook massacre. What is Amity’s message to these children? Amity High School is supporting violence in our community."
Ok, let's take a breath here. Sweeney Todd is a masterpiece by Stephen Sondheim and is highly regarded as a challenging opera to perform. The fact that the Drama Department chose it proves that they have set the bar very high, but they feel that their students can rise to the occasion. It is a musical with some dark themes, no doubt, but it is a piece of theater. I am sure the high school students that have chosen to take part can separate a gothic tale from reality.
I must admit that I have never been to a theatrical production of this piece, but I have watched and rewatched a DVD of a performance featuring Patti Lupone and Neil Patrick Harris with a symphony orchestra and a large chorus. It focused on the magnificent music, but was done in costume with some props and the violence was highly stylized. I did watch the movie version with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and was not as impressed; I couldn't get past the fact that it eliminated the entire first song.
I would guess that the show as written falls somewhere in between. I am sure that the violence of the murders by the barber will only be suggested in this student production and will be far less graphic than what can be seen in many movies and video games. I wonder if these parents would be as upset if the department had chosen to do a Shakesperean tragedy. And did they allow their high school students to see the new movie version of Les Miserables? Beautiful music, but not exactly a happy story.
It appears that the show was chosen before the tragedy of Sandy Hook, so the timing was a coincidence, and I concur with those who have expressed that theatre can be healing. These young performers have come together as a family to launch the production, a type of family that only happens in theatre. Some students may have chosen not to participate, but my guess is that most of the ones who did are very excited to be performing such a challenging piece. I suspect that tickets for the show will sell well to their proud family members and friends. However, as a teacher of primary students, I would not be comfortable allowing my young students to attend. This might mean that cast members would not be able to have their youngest siblings see their performance.
I read all the growing number of comments below posts regarding the protest after I wrote down my thoughts, and I am going to quote one of the best ones here. It was written by a friend, the very learned Garrett Stack:
Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, "The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," is quite rightly regarded as a masterpiece of musical theater and held in the highest regard by the theater community. Its origins date back more than 150 years to Victorian England and numerous vehicles have been mounted to tell the gruesome tale of revenge and enterprise. Like most Gothic literature it contains elements of horror and romance. The opportunity for young people to be exposed to this genre and more importantly to the magnificent score Sondheim created is without equal.
I have personal connections to the Sandy Hook tragedy and grieve every day. But to enjoin the production Sweeney Todd at Amity High School because it contains elements of gothic literature, yes violence and murder, is to say don't read Edgar Allen Poe and never watch a Frankenstein movie again. These high school students know the difference between fact and fiction. And Director Robert Kennedy is to applauded for his bold choice, made long before Sandy Hook, of this difficult opera. The students, as we have seen in the past, will rise to the challenge and thrill us.
Perhaps if teachers only expose their teen-aged students to "cutesy" theatre, they are doing them a disservice. There are so many other genres that they should experience for a well-rounded education.
Consider this interesting fact. The show that Newtown High School produced last year at this time was Sweeney Todd. It was tastefully done and it was a huge success.
It will be interesting to see if the BOE decides to get involved in this matter.