Final show of NLT season is a ‘thriller’

Published 1:04 am Sunday, May 24, 2009

NATCHEZ — Natchez Little Theatre may have to purchase new seats after its season ending production closes next Sunday.

The seats are in fine shape now, but that might not be the case after audiences fill the auditorium for NLT’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

“It’s a fast moving story. It’s intense,” said Layne Taylor, executive director of NLT. “People are going to be on the edge of their seats the entire time.”

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“Sweeney Todd” is an adaptation of the book written by Hugh Wheeler. The “musical thriller” tells the true story of a British barber who after being framed for a crime and sent away to Australia, returns to London for revenge.

The barber was convicted of an unspecified crime because the judge has taken an interest in Sweeney Todd’s wife. The judge plans to send Todd to the prison colony of Australia, but on his way there, Todd is taken aboard another ship and returned to London where he begins his bloody quest for revenge.

Todd fills the streets of London with terror as he goes on a killing spree looking for the judge that ruined his life. Todd, after robbing his victims, turns them over to Mrs. Lovett who uses the bodies in her tasty meat pies.

Taylor said this production is different from plays the theater company has done in the past, but he said he sees the change as positive.

“It is a very entertaining show but for a more mature audience,” he said. “Yes there is horror and murder and a little bit of mystery, but, at the heart of the story, it is a love story.”

And just as the play is better suited for a mature audience, Taylor said a mature cast of performers were needed to pull off the challenging production.

The youngest actor/singer in the play is 17, Taylor said.

The curtain opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Natchez Little Theatre at 319 Linton Ave.

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the NLT box office by calling 601-442-2233 or 1-877-440-2233 or online at

A benefit performance at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets for that performance are $10 each with all the money going to the Dawn Taylor Memorial Scholarship fund which gives a $500 scholarship to one student performer annually.

Taylor said the play has been adapted from the original version to eliminate some of the blood from the original play.

“But it doesn’t take away from the story at all,” Taylor said. “And there is no actual blood in our production. It is all stylized.”

The production is being directed by NLT veteran Tommy Jackson. Jackson has performed in a variety of production in Natchez and touring with Broadway productions, but he said, “Sweeney Todd” has been one of the most difficult productions on which he has worked.

“From a musical standpoint, it is the hardest production in the 20th century,” Jackson said. “The rhythm, time and notes are things I’ve never heard together.”

But Jackson said with the dramatic pace of the show, the music works.

“The audience will be focused the entire time,” Taylor said. “They will be looking around trying to see what happens next. No one is going to fall asleep in this.”

One thing that makes the music so unusual is that the lyrics and the music are not in time with each other.

“They are actually running counter to each other,” Taylor said.

That, at first, was a bit of a challenge for the performers, but in the end, it all came together, Jackson said.

“This is the most vocal production I’ve seen us do in years,” Jackson said. “We are singing in four-part harmony but it sounds like 16 part.”

Darlene McCune, who plays Mrs. Lovett and is also the director of choral activities at Natchez High School, brought in six singers from Natchez High to perform in the play.

She said that decision turned out to be a lifesaver.

“They learned it almost faster than I could learn it to teach it to them,” McCune said.

Which is good since McCune has been busy sharpening her meat grinder.