Love and guts for Valentine’s with Sweeney Todd

Love and guts for Valentine’s with Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd, the beloved tale of gruesome murder and revenge, hits the stage just in time for a romantic Valentine’s Day date.

By Gracey Murphy

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This Valentine’s Day, pie may not be the best choice of dessert after your fancy dinner. Who knows what special ingredient that cherry cobbler may contain?

Sweeney Todd, one of Stephen Sondheim’s many popular musicals, will be featured at Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St., this weekend. The cast of more than 40 will present a concert experience, meaning very few props and set will be used. Instead, they will focus on Sondheim’s musical creations.

“We get an opportunity to focus on hearing the music and hearing the words of the musical rather than a technical spectacle of the show,” said director Mark Baer. “Very often, productions spend a lot of time focusing on the blood and the spectacle of the show and don’t get a chance to chew on what is really an amazing orchestral score and an amazing text.”

Baer has traveled across three states to work with such a huge ensemble and orchestra. Originally from Indiana, he works as assistant professor of acting and directing at Indiana University-Northwest. This is Baer’s first time directing in the Iowa City area.

Similarly, Sweeney Todd introduces a few new actors, including Mia Gimenez (Mrs. Lovette). Gimenez recently moved from San Francisco with her family and discovered there would be Sweeney Todd auditions. Now, the whole family is in the production.

“It’s a musical about love, and murder, and mayhem, and cannibalism. I think it’s a dream come true,” Gimenez said. “It tells a story of greed, but it also tells a story of how much we love to our own detriment. And no matter how loyal you are, everyone has a dark side”

The story of Sweeney Todd is dark and sorrowful. After losing both his daughter and wife, Todd seeks revenge and partners with pie-shop owner Mrs. Lovette. Though Todd is a murderer and bakes those he kills into pies, he truly just wants to be with his wife and child, Johanna, again. However, Johanna is living a hard life, too; she’s been imprisoned for the past 15 years.

“She’s this girl kind of on the brink of womanhood; she’s never really been exposed to anything,” Maya Bassuk (Johanna) said. “She’s never been exposed to her own age or friendship or love of any kind.”

Working without a set has proven to be a challenge, but it’s helped her to grow as as an actor, Bassuk said. Johanna’s view on life is sheltered, but there is still humanity in her. It’s a difficult role but fun to play because of her limited view of the world, Bassuk said.

Sweeney Todd is set to run Friday-Feb. 14 for Valentine’s weekend.

“What is more Valentine’s Day than greed, and manipulation, and blood, and murder, and eating your loved ones?” Gimenez said.

Click here to check out a photo slideshow.


Sweeney Todd

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Feb. 14

Where: Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St.

Admission: $12-$22

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