Bowdoin’s student-led theater troupe, the Curtain Callers, was less than enthused when told they would be performing their rendition of “Sweeney Todd” in Chase Barn. With a small stage, only two doors and no backstage or wings, the mid-nineteenth century barn is not the traditional venue for a musical as grand as “Sweeney Todd.” But Max Middleton ’16, co-director of the musical and an actor in the show, predicts that the space will lend to an intimacy between the actors and the audience.

“It ended up being a blessing in disguise, because it feels like a horror movie could take place in that space,” Middleton said. “It’s going to be a really close experience. By nature of performing in Chase Barn, it’s going to be a cast of 15, a pit orchestra of four and an audience of 50, and that is as small as Sweeney could get.” 

Co-directed by Middleton and Cordelia Zars ’16, “Sweeney Todd” is the first full-fledged musical that the Curtain Callers have performed since their rendition of “The Rocky Horror Show” in the spring of 2014. 

The two directors were drawn to the idea of putting on a show that, although sinister in theme, would excite and engage their audience

“It’s a pretty dark show,” lead actor Lucas Shaw ’16 said. “Bowdoin hasn’t really done a very dark, intense piece before… I’m really excited to interact with the audience and make them feel afraid.”

“There has been an increased interest in musical theater on campus over the past couple of years,” Middleton said. “I thought a really good show to get the community excited as a whole would be ‘Sweeney Todd,’ because everyone loves ‘Sweeney Todd.’ It’s hard and it’s difficult and it’s weird and gritty and it’s just a wonderful show.”  

With its complex music scores and disturbing content, the plot follows a barber named Sweeney Todd, wrongfully exiled from 19th century London by a judge who was after Todd’s wife. The story resumes 15 years later, when Sweeney returns to exact revenge on the judge by conniving with a local baker who is short of fresh meat for her pies. 

“It’s gonna be a little creepy and hopefully it’s a little scary. And then it’s also a funny, sick show. It’s a really weird piece,” Middleton said. “You can expect people to be putting in some really phenomenal performances. There’s some singing going on in the show that’s some of the best I’ve heard during my time at Bowdoin theater in general.”

The directorial team, composed of Middleton and Zars, met with Professor of Music and Director of the Bowdoin Chamber Choir Robert Greenlee during an independent study to learn how to give vocal direction with Sweeney Todd’s difficult musical score. 

“It’s very difficult music, so it doesn’t go where you would expect it to and often times it’s pretty dissonant,” Shaw said. “The acting, for me, is actually the easier part. I thought it would be much harder because it’s such an intense, deep character.”

Amber Barksdale ’18, who plays Mrs. Lovett, the local baker, has struggled with stepping into the shoes of a character who is so unlike herself.

“I’ve never played a person who is totally okay with killing people… it was weird to actually think like someone who is completely and totally fine putting humans into food that they’re also feeding to other humans,” Barksdale said. “It’s super creepy to think about, when you really stop and think about it. There are a lot of complex pieces that go into those emotions.” 

But it’s the intensity of the characters and the intimacy that Chase Barn provides that promise to make it an exciting show, Middleton says. 

“I am really excited to see how actors interplay with the audience,” Middleton said. “Because when you’re directing, you become so familiar with the lines and material that we forget what lines are funny. We forget what lines are scary. And then when we perform it to an audience, actors remember why they’re doing it. I’m really excited to see how the show that we’ve created and the audience interplay with each other.”