Tree House Youth Theatre tackles Sweeney Todd

Tree House Youth Theatre is getting ready to tackle the dark and challenging production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

“One of the things we really want to do is challenge our performers, and we’re looking for materials that are really rich and quite meaningful. And Sweeney is outstanding,” said Tree House Artistic Director Matt Gould.

When Gould introduced the idea of performing Sweeny Todd, his young acting troupe, “Hit the roof and screamed the house down.”

Gould talked to the board and was granted the rights to perform the piece.

The traditionally blood-filled, gory murder musical has taken a twist to suit the needs of theatre and to make the story less about blood and more about the emotions of characters.

“One’s imagination is far more rich than showing the deaths. We have a way to show them. But then the symbolism can be quite chilling, and everybody’s going to fill in what happened,” he explained. “We decided to sort of illustrate things with black and white sketches and etchings. I really like it because we dispensed with all the blood, partially because we can’t be cleaning it all up between scenes, but I also think it lacks imagination.”

The performance features a cast of only 12 and a live orchestra to accompany them. The ‘Cut-Throat’ Orchestra will be led by Red Deer Performing Arts Festival Director Ashley Miller.

Gould said that the small orchestra is wonderfully professional and exciting. Between the orchestra and unique aesthetic approach to the play, show-goers will have many things to keep their focus on.

Gould’s production will also stray from traditional greys and dreary backgrounds while designing costumes and sets. He said their look is much more “Crisp and sharp.

“I think our aesthetic approach really feels like we’re pulling it together. We’ve been constructing sets and painting them. Some of the illustrations have been finished and mounted. I got a look at some of the costumes,” he added. “The whole look of this is really cohesive and pulled together.”

The performance of Sweeney Todd encompasses difficult music, which was originally composed by Stephen Sondheim, renowned worldwide for his brilliant lyricism and music production techniques. The songs are full of passion and enhance the play and scenery to fully develop the dark internal struggles of the characters.

“What impresses me and always keeps me coming back is the kids – and I know how cliché that sounds for people that work with youth – but I’ve had kids that come back for five or six or seven years and I watch them from age 11, some up to ages 17 or 18 years old,” he said.

“It feels like a tremendous honour for me because something’s going on that keeps pulling them. I’m really happy to say we are developing a number of people who come to see us for whatever show we do, even if they don’t have kids involved in the production. They know we do interesting stuff. We get great support from the city, from the arts community that kind of says there is something here that is meaningful.”

The Tree House Youth Theatre company produces more than just plays. There is focus on developing skills such as cooperation, critical and creative thinking, self-confidence and dedication.

“The show is a by-product of the real stuff which is being together, working and developing these skills.”

Performances run May 29-31st and June 6-8th, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Scott Block Theatre. Tickets are $20 and are available on the Treehouse Youth Theatre web site.