AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) —In West Texas A&M University Theatre’s next production, the murderous musical “Sweeney Todd,” everyone from the not-so-blameless victims to the homicidal titular character himself is ensnared.
“My vision of the show is that they are all trapped in their own cages,” said director Echo Sunyata Sibley, assistant professor of theatre in the Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts and Humanities. “Whether from the class divide of Victorian London or their own destructive flaws and impulses, they’re all imprisoned. And there are references to birds everywhere: the song ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird,’ Todd’s line ‘the gesture of his claw’ and referring to Johanna as his ‘turtle dove,’ even hints of bird songs in the score.”
She’s fully embracing that avian imagery in the design of the set, in costuming and makeup choices—even in blocking: “There are moments in the show when the chorus moves as if they’re a desperate flock of pigeons.”
It’s an intriguing new take on a modern classic, which will take flight for audiences in performances at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10-11 and Feb. 16-18 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 12 in the Branding Iron Theatre inside the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts Complex. Tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for seniors and non-WT students, and free for WT students, faculty and staff with a Buff Gold Card.
“Sweeney Todd” is one of the most towering achievements of lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim, who died in 2021. The musical, which premiered in 1979 on Broadway, has been revived countless times (a new Broadway production is opening soon), and no wonder: It’s simply captivating, according to the WT stars.
“I watched the movie (directed by Tim Burton) when I was in eighth grade, then the filmed production of the stage musical (starring Angela Lansbury), and I just fell in love,” said Carley Venter, a senior musical theatre major from Midland who plays the droll yet deadly shopkeeper Mrs. Lovett.
“It was one of the first musicals I watched,” echoed R.J. Flud, a senior musical theatre major from Midland who glowers and slashes his way to vengeance as the title character. “It was entirely different from what I thought musicals are.”
Indeed, there are no fringe-topped surreys or brass-filled parades here. It’s more of a horror story, with Todd sneaking back into London to exact a bloody revenge on those who wronged him and stole his daughter.
“He’s overcome by a wave of vengeance, but he’s hurt, too,” Flud said. “He is doing very bad things, but it’s for a reason.”
As complicated as the motivations are, so too is essentially everything about the show, Sibley said.
“‘Sweeney’ is not something you can fake your way through,” said Sibley, who performed in the show as a graduate student at the University of Arkansas. “When I did it, it challenged me and made me a better singer and a better actor. I hope it does the same for my cast.” Fostering an appreciation of the arts is a key component of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World. That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched in September 2021 — has raised more than $115 million.
Cast members also include Oscar Hample, a junior musical theatre major from Wasilla, Alaska, as Judge Turpin; Zachary Todd, a senior musical theatre major from Flower Mound, as Beadle Bamford; Camila Gutierrez, a freshman musical theatre major from Austin, as Tobias; Chloe Ridolfo, a graduate student in vocal performance from Los Angeles, as Signore Pirelli; Leighson Selman, a junior musical theatre major from Amarillo, as the beggar woman; Morgan Baily, a freshman musical theatre major from El Paso, as Johanna; Caleb Martinez, a a senior musical theatre major from Seagraves, as Anthony; Aidan Tsichlis, a senior musical theatre major from Plano, as Fogg; and Jewel Schonhoff, a junior musical theatre major from Little Elm, as the bird seller.
Understudies include Ray Barber, a junior musical theatre major from Conroe (Sweeney Todd); Peyton Hastings, a junior musical theatre major from Sundown (Mrs. Lovett); Matt Thurman, junior musical theatre major from Frisco (Judge Turpin); Tsichlis (Beadle Bamford); Isa Slaughter (Tobias); Francisco DiLello, a graduate student in vocal performance from Highland Mills, New York (Pirelli); Sanai Lowe, a senior musical theatre major from McKinney (beggar woman); Austen Jones, a junior music major from Amarillo (Johanna); Joshua Moreno, a junior music education major from Canyon (Anthony); and Peyton Jewett, a sophomore musical theatre major from Monahans (Fogg).
Ensemble members include Jones; Savannah Bohl, a junior musical theatre major from Muenster; Schonhoff; Signe Elder, a a senior musical theatre major from Lubbock; Slaughter; Lowe; Victoria Reyes, a junior musical theatre major from Inez; Abigail Martin, a junior musical theatre major from Amarillo; Thurman; Tsichlis; Carter Black, a sophomore acting major from
Lubbock; Kelton Harbison, a sophomore music education major from Amarillo; Barber; Moreno; Jewett; Edgar Camarena, a senior theatre major from Amarillo; and DiLello.
About West Texas A&M University
WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. WT, a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016, boasts an enrollment of about 10,000 and offers 59 undergraduate degree programs and more than 40 graduate degrees, including two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs.