Think of it as "a little something for the holiday," said Joe Martinez.

The artistic director of Missoula Community Theatre was speaking of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

Stephen Sondheim's classic macabre musical serves as a Halloween special and the opening of the theater's 2015-16 season.

Chris Torma, an MCT veteran in the title role, sees his character as an anti-hero on par with Walter White of "Breaking Bad."

He's a wronged Englishman who seeks revenge on a judge by teaming up with the owner of a pie shop, Mrs. Lovett. He takes up residence in the barbershop upstairs and begins killing his customers, who are baked into the pies downstairs.

"This guy doesn't have much to lose, and when he realizes that, that changes him," Torma said. "It's a story about revenge and what happens to Sweeney and his world when that's the path he chooses to take."

Martinez, who's serving as director, said MCT's production is taking a minimal approach: one set with two halves and hardly any scene changes, which he said can pull audiences out of the story. He thinks of it as "Sweeney Todd" meets "Our Town."

They're telling it as a dark comedy as well, emphasizing the humor in the play.

The script is almost entirely music, and MCT is staging it with a "presentational" concept in mind. The costumes are based on formal concert attire with accents for specific characters, such as rags for the beggar woman.

Overall, Martinez wants to help audiences follow along with Sondheim's complex music and lyrics.

"We're doing our best to keep it where the actors are telling you a story and not really acting out a story," Martinez said.

And it's the music and lyrics that have made it a classic for companies around the country.

"Despite the rather gruesome subject matter, the score to 'Sweeney Todd' is quite lovely. It really does have a lot of beautiful music in it," said David Cody, who's acting as music director for "Sweeney." Cody, who holds a doctorate in music, teaches at the University of Montana.

He said the music offers challenges to both the cast and his nine-person orchestra.

"The rhythm and the meter of the show is irregular," he said, speculating that Sondheim wanted to create an off-balance feeling. Sometimes, he said, the rhythm will be felt in 3, then 4, then 5 or sometimes in 7.

"The music has some spiky, dissonant aspects to it," he said. "It's not, say, as accessible in a melodic way as 'The Sound of Music.' "

He noted that many productions of "Sweeney" feature a grand scale and orchestra, while MCT's is more intimate, in keeping with Martinez's concept.


The production is something of a second chance for cast member Roxann Jackson.

She played Mrs. Lovett once back in Mississippi, before she transferred here to seek her master's in theater at UM.

However, a tornado hit her school and the subsequent damage was too severe for a full production, and they staged it as a concert version.

Jackson said Lovett is a pinnacle role for a character actress. It requires technically different vocal stylings, and then there are the emotions: "You have to go to a really dark place, which sometimes people don't want to do."

She's one of the most evil characters in the whole play, Jackson said, through her "progression of obsession with Sweeney, and her progression of obsession with saving her business through murder."

Most of MCT's season is appropriate for families, but Martinez cautioned that "Sweeney Todd" obviously is not.

"There's no blood," he said, but its themes are dark.

Fans of "Sweeney" should expect the same music, Martinez said, but MCT's own stamp in the staging.

"It's just told from a different point of view," he said.

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