Sweeney Todd: A killer show

Leah Kindler, Contributor

Last June, OPRF senior Grant Reynolds was one of 800 hopeful high school actors at auditions for the 2017 Illinois High School Theatre Fest production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Meanwhile, Flynn Osman, also a senior, was interviewing to work on the 34 person technical crew of the production. Students from throughout the state tried out for only an audition, only a crew interview, or both.

Three weeks later, Reynolds snagged the titular role and Osman was assigned to work on makeup and costumes for the production. Seven months later, the show was opening in front of thousands. “[We] worked so incredibly hard so hearing the monstrous roar of the crowd every night before and during the show made it worthwhile,” said Reynolds.

Illinois High School Theatre Fest includes an All-State Production. “Sweeney Todd” is a musical about a barber who begins murdering customers and sending their bodies to Mrs. Lovett’s meat pie shop. The partnership serves as a means of revenge for Todd and a source of ingredients for Lovett. Rehearsals this year were at Glenbrook North High School. The performances were at The Krannert Center for Performing Arts at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Reynolds has been in plenty of shows at OPRF, but none as serious as “Sweeney Todd.” The cast rehearsed one weekend a month for six months. Reynolds compared the schedule to one of a Broadway performance, which upped the pressure. “Because it was so professional, I felt like it was my job to execute the role correctly every night,” Reynolds said. “Though doing shows [at OPRF] in the past have been fun, this [show] taught me a plethora of great acting and singing technique at such an advanced level.”  

Working in makeup and costumes, Osman had mentors but a lot of autonomy. “There was this new level of passion and determination,” she said, comparing to the shows she’s done at OPRF. “I have never seen a group of people my age so incredibly motivated to pull a show off.”

Osman was also challenged by the show’s rigor. The biggest challenge for her was that 13 hour rehearsal days inhibited a normal sleep schedule. “During the week of [Theatre] Fest, everyone was running on about three hours of sleep each day,” Osman said. She was amazed by the entire company’s ability to push through sleep deprivation and perform as if they were well-rested. “This show required lots of physical labor and quick thinking.”

Osman remembers being impressed by one crew member, a girl named Sam, who controlled the chair that Sweeney Todd uses to dump his bodies into the cellar. “Not only is the job itself stressful with everyone counting on you,” she said, “[but] this girl was sleep-deprived. Every time the chair was used, I would hold my breath because there is a lot of trust needed to pull this stunt off. But she did it every time.”

Through bringing together talented actors, makeup artists, costume designers, crew members, musicians, and more, “Sweeney Todd” also brought together a group of friends. Osman didn’t hesitate to refer to her “Sweeney Todd” friends as her family. “I have never seen a full company become as close as ours did,” she said, including the cast, crew, and pit orchestra. “One relationship that stood out to me was the one I had with my fellow makeup girls. We have cried, laughed, sweat, and literally bled together. By bled I mean from sewing costumes for hours,” she said jokingly.

Reynolds found himself wishing the experience didn’t have to end when the shows did. “The hardest part was saying goodbye to the lifelong friends I made and the beautiful show we created,” he said. “I’m so proud of the work we did. I’m so grateful.”

The relationships that had been developing since August and the hard work through all of it culminated in an incredibly emotional last performance. “I’m always sad when a show ends but this one was different,” Osman said. “Everyone completely broke down in the final bows. There were so many hugs, tears, thank you’s, and we were just in a moment that was filled with utter pride.”