Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street played at The RFA Lakeside Theater on the evenings of July 28, 29, and August 1, and for a Sunday matinee on July 31. All four performances received standing ovations for the creative efforts of the entire cast. The last performance had the theater filled to the rafters. Erin and the cast dedicated the show to Sherry Connally. Sherry first introduced Erin to the show when she was in high school. Sadly, Sherry passed away three years ago. She gave a lot of herself to the RFA and its local community theater, and her legacy will live on for a long time to come.

Sweeney Todd, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler, debuted on Broadway in 1979, and its content made it an unlikely hit. It’s about a man who was wrongfully railroaded by a London judge and his flunky beadle to be sent away to an Australian penal colony, leaving his wife, Lucy, and their daughter, Johanna, in the greasy hands of the reprobate Judge Turpin. There are the themes of love and revenge to feast on as the diners at Mrs. Lovett’s (played by Erin Smith) eponymous eatery gorge themselves on meat pies whose main ingredient is human flesh. This is not the usual fare offered on the RFA’s menu. Dark, yes, but, also, at turns, deliriously funny.

Rangeley Friends of the Arts has been putting on summer musicals for nearly 50 years, except for the intervening Covid years of 2020 and 2021 when the RFA mustered the minimal events possible given the situation. They returned this summer with what had been originally cast back in 2020, before the theater went dark, with Erin Perkins Smith at the helm as director.


Directing a play on any scale is time consuming enough. Directing Sweeney Todd, though, not only consumes your time but it can turn you into a whirling dervish. I was the fly on the wall witnessing the entire process from beginning to end, and I saw Erin put her heart and soul into this production. She knew what it would take to make this show a success and she made sure everyone else did as well. She had the complete support of the entire cast and crew. And on top of her directorial responsibilities Erin also had the principal role of Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd’s lovelorn co-conspirator. Erin played Lovett with such delectable delight one could almost feel sorry for her as she allows Todd to throw her into the oven as recompense for her ill dealings regarding Lucy, the wife Sweeney thought was dead due to Lovett’s misdirection. Erin’s recipe to play Nellie as a sympathetic opportunist was arrived at experimentally. She added a bit of selfishness here, a dash of love there, let it simmer for a bit and then turned the heat all the way up by the end, only to burn and be thrown away after a culminating, maniacal waltz. Erin clearly loved cooking this 10-course meal with Lovett as head chef. “I thought Sweeney Todd would be similar to [Sondheim’s] Into the Woods, but it was so much harder…the harmonies, the dissonance, the rhythms, the accent, the sheer number of lines and songs…it was just hard. I’m so proud of the cast and crew for all of their hard work!” Erin’s voice ascended to the heavens as Mrs. Lovett descended to the bowels of hell.

Sweeney Todd was played with great relish by Sam Meehan. Sam and his wife Kelsey, Johanna, came to Rangeley four years ago by way of Minnesota, where they soon will be returning in October. Sam allowed his character carte blanche as Sweeney rationalized his role as jury, judge, and executioner, keeping Lovett’s business thriving as his victims’ remains filled the hot pockets of Nellie Lovett’s meat pies. Sam’s Todd feeds his rage with a sense of obligation to avenge his wife’s demise and his daughter’s captivity by exacting a carnivorous carnage upon the elite patrons of Fleet Street. By the time Sweeney realizes his pact with Nellie is actually a pact with the devil it is too late, and the irony that he has killed the one woman he loved, his Lucy, is too much for him and he is ready to be killed with his own razor by Toby. “It has been the largest undertaking of my very limited ‘career’ on stage,” Sam shared, “and who better to do it with than the beautiful cast and crew at the RFA. I still am not completely sure that this experience is real. It’s like a dream for me to get to play the role of Sweeney Todd. He’s dark and funny, but he really covers the entire spectrum of human emotion. It’s exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. Working with this cast has been a blast!”


Erin had wanted to bring Sweeney Todd to a Rangeley stage for nearly 20 years but it was kept from coming to fruition for myriad reasons. Timing is everything, as they say. This was especially true in this case. A show of this magnitude costs a pretty penny. Just paying for the rights to put it on is astronomical. Then there was the cost of the stage setting. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, well, neither was this set. The entirety of the story’s setting remained unchanged except for some minor cosmetic alterations. It was a two-tier construction with a jutting centerpiece for Sweeney’s Tonsorial Parlor. There was also a place for Johanna’s bedroom, Fogg’s Asylum, Mrs. Lovett’s Delicious Meat Pies, its bakehouse, and several street scenes. The crowning achievement to Val Zapolsky’s set design was the barber chair that disposed of Sweeney’s customers who had just received, shall we say, a shave a little too close to the vein. At first, the dead bodies were gliding downward, but, by the end, Sam, in Sweeney’s hysteria, was practically catapulting them. The audiences reacted in horror every time.

Sue Downes-Borko was the rhythmic beating heart as the music director. She delivered many, many hours to work with the cast over a four-month period. “Often for our RFA musicals,” she said, “we have one or two trained singers amidst an entire cast. In Sweeney, we had a whopping seven professional and experienced singers who brought an amazing depth to the stage. Everyone else in the cast rose to new heights because of the quality being modeled.” Sue’s orchestra was composed of herself on piano, Andrea Keirstead on keyboards, percussionist Victor Borko, and woodwind musician Gia Walton playing the clarinet and flute. This allowed Sondheim’s score to flourish and fly high. Sue delivered such a delicious sound that many audience members returned for seconds; a high compliment indeed.

Justin Orazi’s lighting tenderized the mood when and where it was warranted and allowed the plot to marinade in the saucy hues of romance and the spicy reds of hellbent revenge.

Millie Hoekstra has been producer and stage manager for hundreds of shows over the years that she could write her own how-to book by now and it would become a bestseller. Millie is the spine of every production, keeping sure it all remains erect and running. Erin knew she had a right arm and a left arm with Millie. Millie embodies the RFA mission. “What a privilege to see a dream come alive on this stage,” she said. “Working with this group of actors, musicians, production crew and the multitude of volunteers gives me so much joy. I love watching each one grow in their confidence, presentation and love for community theater.” Millie has been a mentor to many as she glides from task to task with a divine confidence.

Sweeney is such a haunting tale too. The ensemble (Pam Ellis, Ben Wetherill, Angelica Chavaree-Woodward, Austin Hathaway, Averie Flewelling, Heidi Bassett, Micha Beckman, Lily Lavallee, Brittany Wetherill, Jayden Hammon, Troy Hathaway, Kaitlyn Hammon) Sondheim’s version of an ancient Greek chorus, moves as one, like a flock of ashen, singing birds, shifting their shape from scene to scene, telling the story as it unfolds. One tight unit. Johanna (Kelsey Meehan) batters herself against her virgin cage, warbling for escape, as Anthony (Daxxtyn Williams) answers by stealing her, saving her, fleeing with her in a star-making performance. Poor Toby (Tor White) fails their Ma’am and wreaks revenge upon the demon who killed her. Beadle Bamford (Ethan Shaffer’s return) receives his comeuppance from Sweeney’s razor, dies and leaves his daughter Annie fatherless. Smelly Perelli, Danny O’Higgins (both Fletcher Dellavalle – up to his usual excellence), got what was coming to him by way of the blade. And Lucy, the Old Beggar Woman (Debby Higgins in a scene-stealing appearance – such an addictive ingredient), innocent victim of her own beauty, loses her battle against two corrupt souls, seeking one alms too many from the bankrupt hearts of men. The Judge (also Fletcher Dellavalle) is a despicable reprobate who is righteously condemned by the edge of chaste silver. The Bird Seller (Brittany Wetherill) and Fog (Heidi Bassett) strained at their leashes wanting to devour the stage but, ultimately, surrendered to the script. What a dream cast.

Sweeney Tood was a theatrical smorgasbord, serving something for everyone, a succulent triumph so tasty that Stephen Sondheim would have sent his compliments to the kitchen. Well done, Erin, and everyone responsible for this entertaining feast.



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