SWEENEY ODD

Sweeney Todd at the AllWays Lounge features Helen Gillet as Mrs. Lovett and Ratty Scurvics as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  Photo by the AllWays Lounge Show caption
Sweeney Todd at the AllWays Lounge features Helen Gillet as Mrs. Lovett and Ratty Scurvics as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Photo by the AllWays Lounge

Sondheim’s murderous musical cuts the sweetness  of the holidays with a knife

Drenched in red and black decor, the AllWays Lounge on St. Claude Avenue feels like the right place to experience the bloody musical, “Sweeney Todd.”

The Sondheim play -- set in 19th century London -- is about a barber who returns to London after 15 years of exile on false charges and takes his revenge by slicing throats with his razor.

The question is, why would anyone perform “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” in the middle of the joy-to-the-world shenanigans of the holiday season?

I called AllWays Lounge Artistic Director Dennis Monn to ask him.

“Because,” said AllWays Lounge artistic director Dennis Monn, “during Christmas, we always do the opposite of Christmas. It gives Scrooges like me something to do.

“But really, the theater market here is saturated with Santa Claus this time of year, and we want to offer something a little different.”

“For many years New Orleans has had a very traditional theater life,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are a lot of great established companies that do wonderful work for a consistent group of people from around the metro area.

“But we have worked to expand beyond that traditional New Orleans theater audience.”

This is something I have felt for a few years now, even while living away from New Orleans, in America’s theater capital, New York. So many talented, creative people have put their skills to work here that one can, with just a bit of optimism and a finger on the right pulse, easily imagine a near-future golden age of New Orleans theater.

“Ten years ago, doing new things meant creating quick and dirty shows in rundown spaces,” Monn said. “But now it means exceptional talent and well-known shows or popular musicals in unique New Orleans spaces. People are starting to realize that what they think is edgy, on-the-street stuff is actually secure and top-notch.”

Monn’s work with the AllWays Lounge, together with the efforts of New Orleans’ many theater companies and troupes, have mined the city’s deep talent and begun to produce work — original and adapted — that is as original as New Orleans itself.

“Our goal is to make New Orleans a viable theater destination by creating a theater scene that is as unique and vibrant as our city itself,” he said.

Sweeney Todd is a show that cuts the sweetness of the holidays with a knife.

“We’re approaching it like a rock show,”Monn said. “We’re using local rock stars, musicians who hit every note and want their musical performances to be absolutely perfect. And here’s the thing: Sweeney Todd is set in Victorian London, but it was written in dirty 1970s America. It’s gritty. It’s violent. We’re making it bloodier than ever.”

Bradley Warshauer is a writer of fiction, essays and journalism. He can be reached at bradleywarshauer@gmail.com.