‘Sweeney Todd’ brings departments together


Lydia Sanchez

The musical thriller Sweeney Todd provides music, mirth and murder for all.

The theater department and the department of music join together to present “Sweeney Todd,” a musical thriller Nov. 15-18 at Fredric March Theatre.

The UWO symphony orchestra will be joining the theater department in their second production of the year. The orchestra will be a 60-piece ensemble featuring student musicians.

Theater department professor Merlaine Angwall will direct the cast through Hugh Wheeler’s story.

She said the musical itself is challenging and complex, but the most rewarding thing about the production is the collaboration between the music and theatre departments.

Dylan Chmura-Moore, director of orchestra activities, will conduct the orchestra through music written by Stephen Sondheim.

Chmura-Moore has conducted the ensembles of Harvard University and the New England Conservatory of Music. He said if you want to invest yourself in a story and in a scene, then you have to live in that world.

Community actor Nathan Krueger, a baritone who has appeared in numerous concerts and recitals across North America, will play Sweeney Todd. He said this is an ambitious show for a university.

Community actress Amanda Petersen Fails, a UW-Stevens Point graduate who has played the role before and is co-founder of Oshkosh theater performance company Hysterical Productions, will play Mrs. Lovett.

Amanda Petersen Fails sells her infamous meat pies. The four-day show will start today at 7:30 p.m. in Fredric March Theatre. Tickets start at $5.
Lydia Sanchez
Amanda Petersen Fails sells her infamous meat pies. The four-day show will start today at 7:30 p.m. in Fredric March Theatre. Tickets start at $5.

Fails said working under the direction of Angwall has been rewarding in many ways, but it’s the director’s ability to work with all experience levels that stands out most to her.

“[Angwall] has a very clear idea of what she wants on stage, and it’s really cool to see her work through that with a wide range of people’s experience,” Fails said.

Angwall said the theater department was looking for something challenging for this season’s productions, something that featured a bigger cast and ultimately something that would appeal to the audience.

“For the people of Oshkosh, we are a venue for quality artistic entertainment,” Angwall said. “If we weren’t here there would be a huge void in that aspect of people’s lives.”

Chmura-Moore said the musical has presented many challenges for his performers. He said the biggest challenge has been facing the realities of exhaustive rehearsals.

Chmura-Moore said the musicians have dedicated countless hours to rehearsing and perfecting notes, but the challenge starts now, with conducting.

“Now comes the hard part and my part, the pacing,” Chmura-Moore said. “I have to see that and I have to catch that and help the actors transport themselves into the next scene.”

Krueger said Sweeney Todd is a complicated character, somebody who is tormented by his past and returns to London with revenge on his mind.

He said there are many darkly comedic moments within the grim story. He also said the character is a cross between a Shakespearean tragedy and a pulp horror character.

“He wants to find out where his wife and daughter are, and he finds out quickly things did not go well after he was unjustly sent away and he immediately turns to revenge,” Krueger said. “He goes to great lengths and dark places, which has been a challenge to me.”

Fails said Mrs. Lovett is very fixated on Sweeney Todd and has a clear idea of what she wants out of their relationship.

She said Mrs. Lovett is an outsider, somebody on the fringe of society who has a profound obsession.

“She’s such an interesting character,” Fails said. “She runs a pie shop, but she’s basically a terrible cook that can’t afford to buy the correct supplies.”

Krueger said working with the orchestra and nailing down the technical elements while progressing with his fellow cast members has been rewarding.

“We’ve been rehearsing since the beginning of October and just having everything come together is exciting,” Krueger said.

He said the student orchestra has handled the difficult score well.

“Most [of] the rehearsals, we’ve been working with just the pianist,” Krueger said, “And so as we get closer to opening, we’re getting to hear the music in its full potential, … which is really exciting.”

Angwell said the challenging script and score has required 75 hours of rehearsal, but the benefits make up for the time spent.

“You’re always learning something new,” Angwall said. “Because this musical you learn this year is completely different from the musical you learned last year and from the musical you will learn next year.”

Nathan Krueger settles in to character during dress rehearsal.
Lydia Sanchez
Nathan Krueger settles in to character during dress rehearsal.

Angwell said she has seen actors, technical workers and musicians come together and build a relationship that is formed from shared experience.

“We’re working really hard,” Angwell said. “We have been rehearsing for five weeks, five nights a week three hours a night.”

Krueger said he is encouraged by everyone who has worked on the musical because of the way they have risen to the challenge of a complicated score and script.

“Things have been going great,” Krueger said. “It’s a really exciting show, it’s a big show, it has a lot of components.”

Angwall said nearly 100 people contributed to the production of the musical. She said a commitment like that proves the department’s desire to provide entertainment.

“With that many people working on it, I think it really is a testament to our people and what we are willing to do to bring quality entertainment to Oshkosh and the Fox Valley,” Angwall said.

Chmura-Moore said as an audience member, people, including himself, see the scene and the set as a television. He said sometimes people don’t recognize the work behind the production.

“Because of the intimacy of the room, its very easy to divorce yourself from what’s happening on the stage,” Moore said. “If I was asking anything of the audience it would be don’t take anything on the surface.”

Angwall said that any production is done with the intent to expose the core of the story to the audience in the best way possible.