Music and lyrics:
Having sworn never to return, the prospect of directing one of the half dozen great masterpieces of post-war musical theatre enticed Benet to come back to Wimbledon Light Opera a year after directing Sweet Charity for them.
The most acclaimed and popular score by the world's most revered composer of musicals, Sweeney Todd has been staged by theatre and opera companies around the world for over 20 years.
In its 75 anniversary year, Wimbledon Light Opera made a massive leap of faith by taking on one of the most complex scores Sondheim ever wrote and with traditionally very complex staging requirements. Bolstered by a mass influx of professional or professionally-trained singers, the company numbered over 30. Seven of the nine principal cast were professionals and the remaining two were highly experienced amateurs; five had performed Sweeney Todd before. They were supported by a 16 piece orchestra and enhanced by a stupendous sound design created by designers from the Royal Academy of Music and the Cockpit Theatre.
The production reconceived Sweeney Todd as a minimalistic and psychological staging. The ensemble, who have only a relatively peripheral role in the show as written, became integral to the concept and to the visual presentation of Todd's increasing madness. The major locations- the pie shop, the tonsorial parlour- were created by a minimum of furniture and a few props. The throat cuttings became expressionistic, the victims having red silk hung round their necks before going to join the rest of Todd's unlucky customers watching on.
The spectacular and elaborate lighting design, created by Benet with his regular stage manager, brought the production to the professional standards it had been seeking since the start but which no-one (including the director and one of the leads!) ever thought it would achieve.
The production added a crisis to its drama when Jonathan Alden was required to step in at very short notice to understudy the leading role infront of a capacity audience at one performance. The result, by every measure, was perhaps the most thrilling night of the run and received a euphoric reception.
Sweeney Todd was the most challenging and difficult production Benet has ever directed but one which more than justified the effort it took to get there. It is likely to remain amongst his favourite productions, and easily his favourite musical production, for a long time to come.