KU to stage ‘Sweeney Todd,’ opening Feb. 16
LAWRENCE — Before the Broadway national tour begins, a local production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a Musical Thriller” will explore the psyche of the villain and bring Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant melodies to the community with the help of KU’s Opera and Symphony Orchestra.
“Sweeney Todd” is a co-production of the University of Kansas Department of Theatre & Dance and School of Music. It is directed by Stella Markou, an associate professor of voice & opera in the School of Music.
“It has been an extraordinary experience working with KU’s talented students, design, music and management teams as we have created an alternate dream world between horror and reality. Sondheim’s brilliant orchestration and sardonic use of text is a perfect foundation that catapults my vision of exploring even a darker side of humanity and its cruel injustices,” Markou said. “Although our anti-hero Sweeney is transfixed in a questionable journey of redemption through revenge, I promise our audiences a unique and unforgettable rendering of this Tony-winning and national touring production.”
Following an unjust exile, Sweeney Todd, a social outcast obsessed with revenge, returns to London in search of his family. Soon his barbershop becomes a front for murder, with help from his creative accomplice, Mrs. Lovett.
Performances are in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre at Murphy Hall. “Sweeney Todd” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 20 and 21 and at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 18. Tickets are available for purchase on the KU Theatre production website, by calling 785-864-3982 or in person from noon to 5 p.m. weekdays at the box office in Murphy Hall.
A talk with Paul Laird, a KU professor of musicology who has published extensively on the topic of musical theatre, will begin 45 minutes before each performance in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre.
The Friends of Theatre & Dance are hosting a pre-show reception and inviting all KU staff members at 6 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Design Gallery hallway at Murphy Hall. Staff members interested in mixing and mingling prior to the show should RSVP by email to Jack Rischer by Feb. 7.
The creative team
Markou, who is also the coordinator of voice at KU, is a nationally recognized director of opera and musical theatre. She also is on faculty for the Festival of International Opera. Her directing and productions have garnered top recognitions. “The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret” (2021) and “The Pirates of Penzance” (2019) won first place in the NOA’s opera competition, and her production of “The Medium” (2021) won first prize in The American Prize competition. She is a two-time recipient of The American Prize’s Charles Nelson Reilly Prize in Directing for “The Medium” (2021, second place) and “The Telephone” (2023, third place). Hailed as “exquisite” by Gramophone, she performs internationally as a soloist in opera, oratorio and on the concert stage. Learn more about Markou.
The show’s maestro is Creston Herron, who serves as the director of orchestral activities for KU and serves on the faculty of the Interlochen Arts Camp as the coordinator of orchestras. Herron has enjoyed national recognition as a conductor and educator with ensembles earning numerous national titles under his direction. His recent engagements as a guest conductor include work with regional and all-state ensembles in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and throughout Texas. Learn more about Herron.
Joining them on the creative team are theatre & dance department faculty members Dennis Christilles, scenic designer; Ann Sitzman, lighting designer; and Jenna Link, stage manager. Knox McClendon, a senior in theatre design from Topeka, is the costume designer.
Cast members are Reed Schenkel, recent alumnus of the School of Music, as Sweeney Todd; Grace Steiner, second-year doctoral student in voice from Hays, as Mrs. Lovett; Madeleine James, master’s student in voice performance from St. Louis, as Johanna; Colin Bradt, senior in theatre & voice from Lawrence, as Anthony Hope; Eli Panek, master’s student in music from Kansas City, Missouri, as Judge Turpin; Zach Newkirk, freshman in journalism from Overland Park, as Beadle Bamford; Lei Zhou, doctoral student in voice from Xiangyang, China; as Adolfo Pirelli; Brandon Heflin, sophomore in microbiology and pre-medicine from Olathe, as Tobias Ragg; and Jessi Rhinehart, master’s student in voice performance from Tulsa, Oklahoma, as Beggar Woman; as well as ensemble members Parker Bennett, sophomore in theatre & voice from Kansas City, Missouri; Seth Bruey, sophomore in theatre performance from Newton; Frannie Cihunka, junior in voice & theatre from Omaha, Nebraska; Allison FitzSimmons, junior in theatre performance and psychology from Lincoln, Nebraska; Hannah Gassman, senior in theatre & voice from Deerfield, Illinois; Callee Harris, junior in psychology and social welfare from Hutchinson; Cooper Holmes, sophomore in theatre performance from Overland Park; Kailun Hu, doctoral student from Sichuan, China; Samuel Leopold, freshman in voice from Wichita; Caden Moffitt, freshman in journalism from Overland Park; Canton Schenk, sophomore in theatre from Topeka; Meg Schiliro, senior in voice from Elmhurst, Illinois; Natalie Sledd, junior in voice from Kansas City, Missouri; Dymphna Watkins, sophomore in music composition from Overland Park; Elizabeth Wellman, sophomore in dance from Lawrence; and Ella Widen, sophomore in voice and speech, language & hearing from Topeka.
The University Theatre and University Dance Company are production wings of KU's Department of Theatre & Dance, offering public productions throughout the academic year. The University Theatre and University Dance Company productions are funded in part by KU Student Senate, and the theatre’s season is supported by Truity Credit Union.