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‘Sweeney Todd’: Theater promises tasty version of a dark tale

By Rodger Mullen 
Fayetteville Observer, Staff writer 
Jan 17, 2019

Where best to stage a play about a chap who kills people and bakes them into pies?

How about a pie shop?

That’s where Sweet Tea Shakespeare is staging its next production, the dark musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” The play is scheduled to be presented through Feb. 3 at the Fayetteville Pie Company in Westwood Shopping Center.

“This is going to be a brand new experience for us, the first time we’re having any kind of theater in the shop, and any dinner theater,” said Leslie Pearson, co-owner of Fayetteville Pie Company. “I think everybody who is coming to see the play understands the premise and how special it is to have this in a pie shop.”

The unusual staging grew out of a discussion between Pearson and Sweet Tea regular Marie Lowe, said Sweet Tea founder and artistic director Jeremy Fiebig.

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The two decided there may be no better place to stage a play like “Sweeney Todd” than a pie restaurant.

Based on a Victorian urban legend, “Sweeney Todd” centers on the title character, a London barber who is sent into exile by an evil judge who covets Todd’s wife.

When he returns, Todd vows revenge on the judge. He sets up shop above a meat pie store owned by a widow, Mrs. Lovett.

The two develop a partnership in which Todd kills his victims and Mrs. Lovett disposes of the remains by baking them in pies. Todd’s ultimate goal is to kill the judge.

“Sweeney Todd” opened on Broadway in 1979 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It has been revived several times and was the basis for a 2007 movie directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.

Fiebig is playing the title role. He also performed in the play in college, and in a 2013 Cape Fear Regional Theatre production.

Other performers include Lowe as Mrs. Lovett and Aaron Alderman as Judge Turpin. Medina Demeter directs the production, and Heather Kicklighter Eddy is the musical director.

“I’ve been in love with this play since high school when my music theater teacher introduced me to it,” Fiebig said.

Fiebig said the play, which features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, fits in with Sweet Tea’s mission. He said like Shakespeare’s work, “Sweeney Todd” features poetically heightened language.

“When we’re not doing Shakespeare,” he said, “we look for highly literate, juicy, meaty — pardon the pun — stuff to do.”

Demeter, who has appeared in plays including “Tempest” and “Antony and Cleopatra” at Sweet Tea, said staging “Sweeney Todd” in a restaurant has been a welcome challenge. Sweet Tea often stages its plays in non-traditional settings, including outdoors and in breweries and pubs.

The multi-level space at the Fayetteville Pie Company allows for audience interaction with the actors. A variety of pies and beverages are included in the admission cost.

Seating is limited. Many of the performances have already sold out.

“It has been really awesome. I’ve gotten to really flex my creative muscles,” Demeter said. “It’s been really fun to be flexible with the space and try out new ways of doing things.”

Pearson said she believes the play will be a good way to draw new people into the restaurant, which opened at Westwood in 2017. It offers a rotating menu of specialty pies.

“We’re going to be serving some bloody good pies,” she said.

But not to worry: “We’re not actually going to be baking any humans,” Pearson promised.

Staff writer Rodger Mullen can be reached at rmullen@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3561.

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

‒ Where: Fayetteville Pie Company, 253 Westwood Shopping Center

‒ When: Through Feb. 3

‒ Admission: $45, includes meal and soft drink; beer and wine will be available for purchase. Pre-show entertainment will be provided.

‒ Information: 910-420-4383 or sweetteashakespeare.com