Fresh Blood

Asolo Rep’s Staging of Sweeney Todd Employs an Innovative New Approach

“These are complex psychological characters,” says director Peter Rothstein.

By Kay Kipling April 29, 2019 Published in the May 2019 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Mark Benninghofen and Sally Wingert in Theatre Latté Da’s Minneapolis production of Sweeney Todd. Wingert appears in the Asolo Rep show as well.

Even if you’ve seen the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical tale of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, multiple times, you’ll find the version onstage at Asolo Rep (May 1-June 1) offers a different take.

The production is directed by Peter Rothstein, the Minneapolis-based artist who also helmed last season’s compelling Ragtime at Asolo Rep. His Sweeney Todd likewise features an approach that distills down what can be played in a grand operatic style to a more intimate look at story and characters.

“These are complex psychological characters,” says Rothstein of the dark musical about a 19th-century London barber bent on bloody revenge and those whose lives swirl around him. “As we did in Ragtime, actors will be doubling multiple roles. It’s a show that deals with issues of class in society, so it’s interesting for the audience to see an actor playing both a rich character and a poor character. The secondary characters have a greater impact this way, too.”

The only performers who don’t double their roles are Allen Fitzpatrick as the murderous Sweeney and Sally Wingert (whom Rothstein refers to as “the Judi Dench of the Twin Cities”) as his pie-baking accomplice Mrs. Lovett. She also played the role in the Minneapolis production Rothstein directed a couple of years ago.

Working with set designer Kate Sutton-Johnson, Rothstein presents a vision that springs from the idea of the loss of innocence, setting the action at what seems to be an abandoned carnival. “It’s like a deserted Coney Island, so to speak,” he explains, “created out of what the rich have discarded. The characters have taken this derelict building and are trying to keep a sense of play in the place they’ve scavenged. It’s a luxury only of the rich that their children get to maintain their innocence longer.”

Rothstein adds that the show has been on his bucket list to direct for years. “I can’t think of a musical with more range” in how it can be presented, he says.

Tickets: (941) 351-8000,

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