Last week Santa Barbara audiences sat transfixed by the odd blend of dance and theater that was Adam Barruch’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at the Lobero Theatre. In the audience watching the performance was Ensemble Theatre’s Jonathan Fox, who just that day was rehearsing his own version of Stephen Sondheim’s bloody and dark musical, set to open this coming Thursday. It was one of those weird coincidences in Santa Barbara theater than happens now and then – like two productions of “Other Desert Cities” in 2015, one at the Rubicon, one at PCPA – despite every company trying for a unique season.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” says Mr. Fox, just before rolling into a story of schedules, contracts, dropping a previous plan, and thinking of returning to the world of Stephen Sondheim. “A Little Night Music” was the first performance at The New Vic. Rick Mokler, some 20 years ago, had put on a production of “Sweeney Todd” at SBCC, but it had never returned to our city.
Adam Barruch is on to something that might be new in both the world of theater and the world of dance. Mr. Barruch’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is not a dance interpretation of the musical. Neither is it Mr. Sondheim’s musical with extra dance numbers. Sitting in on the rehearsals at the Lobero Theatre – Diane Vapnek and her DANCEworks secured the space as a gift for his residency – it’s hard to say what Mr. Barruch’s “Todd” will finally become until tonight’s premiere.
William D. Popp plays Sweeney Todd, yet he’s often working alongside the other dancers singing about himself in the third person. These are concepts, not characters, to be possessed by at will. There’s something primal about it, like Mr. Barruch has gone back to druidic times, thinking more of blood sacrifice, and less dreadful about human meat pies.
I feel like we always say this, but this is the hardest show we’ve ever done!” says the always chipper Samantha Eve, the executive director of Out of the Box Theatre Company. She’s talking about the 15-plus cast members of “Bare: A Rock Opera” that opens at Center Stage Theater this Thursday. Ms. Eve has worked with large casts before, like Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” and the hippie collective of “Hair.” But this musical, a story of two Catholic boarding school boys who fall in love and question their faith and identity — with some surprising consequences — is calling on local high schoolers for the job.
“We’re dealing with a lot of scheduling conflicts,” Eve says. “But we’re lucky because they’re bringing a lot of great energy to the show. They’re extraordinarily talented.”