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Start the Presses: Sweeney Todd at Burroughs High a hair-raising experience

February 09, 2013|By Dan Evans, dan.evans@latimes.com
  • John Oreshnick as "Sweeney Todd," left, Joe Leone as "Anthony Hope," center, and Bronwen Capshaw as "Mrs. Lovett," during a dress rehearsal of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at Burroughs High School.
John Oreshnick as "Sweeney Todd," left, Joe… (Photo by Libby Cline )

About 30 minutes into watching the Wednesday night dress rehearsal of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at John Burroughs High School in Burbank, I had an unsettling realization.

An hour prior, I had been at the mercy of sharp steel, having received a haircut less than a mile away. I shivered and touched my neck, taken in by Stephen Sondheim‘s over-the-top creepy score, music the play's vocal director Brendan Jennings described — rather aptly, I thought — as “early Tim Burton.”

Fortunately, the woman who tames my somewhat unruly mop is not a maniacal, hate-filled murderer. Alma has always given me an excellent cut, without as much as a nick in all that time.

The title role of Sweeney Todd — played by John Oreshnick — however, has a predilection for luring customers for a most unkind cut, dumping their lifeless remains downstairs for his partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett — Bronwen Capshaw — to turn into meat pies.

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It's been quite a long time since I've seen a high school play. In fact, I think the last time was when I worked as a general assignment reporter for a tiny paper in San Bernardino County. In 1998. Shame on me. I cannot remember a time when I saw so many people working together in such joyful collaboration.

And the earnestness! Good lord. If you want to have your faith in humanity restored, spend a couple of hours watching a high school play come together. Everyone really, really, really wants the show to go well. Really.

Guy Myers, the play's director and drama teacher, said it far better than me:

“They are going 100% all of the time,” he said. “There is so much passion on the stage and with the tech. That's the reward.”

The teachers and students I spoke to were not concerned by the show's difficulty, a challenging one for professionals.

“This is one of the best casts we've ever had,” Jennings said. “They were up for it.”

But it was hardly easy. Joe Leone, who plays the role of Anthony Hope, set out one of the common challenges in this way:

“In one part, I'm singing based on the same melody, but with different words and slight rhythmic differences,” he said.

Like many others in the show, the senior says he has been singing in the school's choir for years. He plays the piano, guitar, bass, drums and sax in addition to signing, a feat I remarked sounded like he was his own jazz band.

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