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October 15, 1997 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 1997-10-15

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The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, October 15, 1997 - 9

'Sweeney' to chill spines at 'U'

YID is and Th Squirrel Mountain Orchestra brought Ito 4ry ong tunes t TMO Ark .n Sunday nIght.
Lillie celebrates life's simple
pleasures with laid-back folk

By Chrdstopr Tkaczyk
Campus Arts Editor
Once upon a time, a man in need of a
shave wandered into a barber's shop on
Fleet Street in London. The shave
seemed to go well - lather, razor,
rinse, skin softener... then a quick slice
of the throat brought blood and his life
was gone.
The recently
shaved gentlemen ' P R
was then delivered $W
to the daft woman Thu
who owned the at u
meat pie shop ina.s
the flat below the
barber. She diced him up and stuffed
his remains into her meat pies, a
cheap substitution for expensive
beef. All in the name of revenge.
Sounds like a tabloid feature story?
No. It's the story line of "Sweeney
Todd," the Stephen Sondheim musical
thriller, which opens Thursday as part
of the School of Music's Department of
Musical Theater.
The aforementioned gentleman,
unbeknownst to him, happened upon
the shop .of Benjamin Barker, an
exiled convict who returns to London
to seek revenge upon the judge who
ruined his life.
It seems that years earlier, Barker
was forced to live in Australia after
the mean 'ol Judge Turpin stole his
wife and daughter and forced them
into subservient positions in his
When Barker returns to London 20-
something years later under the
assumed name "Sweeney Todd," he
learns that his wife is dead and his
daughter is being held prisoner in the
judge's home as his ward.
When Todd meets crazy Mrs.
Lovett, who owns the meat pie shop
below his new barbershop, he is


reunited with his old razors from his
days as Benjamin Barker.
In his attempt to avenge his lost
life and family, Todd finally manages
to get Judge Turpin within his grasp
- but he escapes. In an outrage of
terror, Sweeney vows to kill every-
one in his path until the judge's life
is taken.
E V IAlongthe route
E V E W back to' England,
eeney Todd Todd is helped by
day through Saturday a OUng sailor
.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. returning home to
Mendelssohn Theater London. Anthony,
the sailor, falls in
love with Johanna, who is the daugh-
ter that was stolen from Sweeney by
the judge years ago.
Considered by many to be
Sondheim's best score, "Sweeney
Todd" touches upon major operatic
and chamber music intonations. It is
a wonderful score because of its com-
plexity, let alone its evocation of
sheer terror through the music.
Sondheim is unique in American the-
ater not because he writes both music
and lyrics, but because he is a genius
with the art. His haunting score pierces
the strongest of listeners and conveys
the bloodbath mood that surrounds this
And that is why it was originally
labeled as a musical thriller - it did-
n't exactly tie in with the musical
comedy genre that had been patterned
on Broadway.
When it was first previewed by
audiences in 1979, "Sweeney Todd,"
scared the pleasure-seeking audi-
ence because it is so hauntingly sen-
"Sweeney Todd" is not performed
often because of its hard-lined com-
plexity, so it was quite a surprise to
some of the musical theater students

when they discovered director Brent
Wagner's intentions to present the
musical at the university.
Wagner took extra precaution in
making sure that his cast would be
prepared for the challences of the
piece, and took the liberty to select
his cast members near the end of
Winter term earlier this year.
This allowed for the actors to study
and develop their role- throughout the
summer months. somethin that has-
n't been done in the past except for
opera productions.
In another attempt at perfectiop in
planning for the production,
Broadway conductor Ben Whitely
was called in to serxe as the show's
musical director.
Currently holding the tite of associ-
ate musical director for the Broadway
production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's
"Cats;' Whitely has been making;Trips
back and forth from New YOrk Citv to
Ann Arbor.
The Univ ersity isn't new, to
Whitely, however, since he studied at
the School of Music for his under-
graduate and graduate years.
Most recently, Whitely was seen in
Ann Arbor as the conductor for the
Musical Theater Depart ment's pro-
ductions of "Grand Hotel" and "The
Music Man."
In a recent interview, Whitely
explained how he prepared for the
demands of "Sweeney Todd."
"I would fly out here in the beginning
of the week when rehearsals first start-
ed, and I covered all the choral parts
within the first three days."
Whitely said that "Sweeney" is a
great challenge because of it's complex-
"I've done this show in the past,
but not with a group like this. We're
using an orchestration by Jonathan
Tunick, who was the first person ever
to win a Tony Award for orchestra-
Tunick won the award earlier this
year for "Titanic."
"We're pulling out all the blood
and whistles for this production,"
Whitely said, referring to the
piercing steam whistle that figures
so prominently in the thriller's
The fall musical is usually on a miuch
smaller scale than the spring nusical -
given its setting in the Mendelssohn
Even the orchestra will be small;
only nine performers will occupy the
orchestra pit.
As the words to the opening number
go: "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
... He shaved the faces of gentlemen
who never thereafter were heard of

Po'nhe d
On the cover of the new album "Rowboats" is little 5-year-
old Brian Lillie dancing outside among the trees. The image
been superimposed for promotional reasons, but Lillie
well be boogying in his parents house to Simon and
Garfunkel on the eight-track.
The Ark held a CD Release Concert
for "Rowboats" last Sunday, Oct. 12.
Brian Lillie and The Squirrel Mountain .'-
Orchestra consists of old "Maitries"-
rmates Al Smith, Brian Smith and Rich
Giffith, as well as cellist Abby Alwin.
There was a special appearance by Matt
Combs of"Divetrain;' plus other local guests.
y night, the band took the stage dressed very profes-
sonally. The band may have looked like an ordinary folk
group, yet its music - which is mixed with a little silliness
- proves that Brian Lillie's band is anything but ordinary.
The set was filled with songs about the simple pleasures
of llfe and how one's short comings can be blessings in
disguise. Brian Lillie opened with a beautiful tune about
how his "dusty, dry, rusty voice cracks when it gets too
They joked around with each other and the audience. For
the song "Sweetheart," Lillie gave his guitar to back-up
4Afr/bongo player Al Smith and remarked that he was orig-
y a piccolo player and was about to play guitar on a blue-
g tune.
During a dedication to Lillie's grandparents, "Grandpa was
a Flyer," three of the members created a little kick line
btween each chorus, which amused everyone because of it's
Besides the quirky antics during the show, Lillie's honest
and sometimes simple lyrics reflected universal feelings and
While listening to the album "Rowboats;" one feels like
lie has opened a scrapbook and each image inspires a
"Rowboats" is Lilly's second album under his self-created


label Thursday Records. It's generally laid-back folk but has
it's moments of spastic craziness. After the debut album
"Waking Up In Traffic," "Rowboats" is The Orchesttr's first
collection as a folk-rock group.
Each song has its own special charm. The album paints a
colorful picture of Lillie's memories of childhood, family
stories and his philosophies on life.
In the track "Okay," Lillie relates his
- Weasy-going attitude about life. "If there's
I T. Squir'rel no women I'll just go andmarry the wind
dit OrCheia / and if there's no money I'll build me a
The Ark home out of friends / and if there's no
S2. 1 children and the price of fortune is too
Ot2*9 steep / then Il baby-sit your kids and at
night I'll sing them to sleep.'
The best tracks on the album describe small, detailed
events in Lillie% life. In "Sunday" he describes, "Theres five
million leaves out in the yard / we own a rake and I could get
it / but I'm feeling pretty lazy just sitting here with you / and
if autumn wants to brag / I think Ill let it." Each track is a
refreshing mini-story accompanied by a trazy combination
of folk-rock-country sound.
The most finger-snappin' fun tune on the album, "Best
Friends," describes every best friend Lillie has had since
grade school. During the two-minute jingle, Lillie describes,
in a Cliff-Notes version, the unique characteristics of his
The personal songs such as "Grandpa Was a Flyer" and
"Hazel's Last Christmas" are especially touching. Each
relates a story about real love and family. The experiences
touch so close to home that it makes one want to call up mom
just to say "I love you."
According to Lillie, everyone should expect to see more
folk to be springing up around Ann Arbor. "The folk scene in
Ann Arbor is really strong right now," said Lillie. "There are
going to be some really cool records coming out in the next
few months."
Brian Lillie and The Squirrel Mountain Orchestra will be
playing Nov. I at the Max Bar in East Lansing, and at Ann
Arbor's Gypsy Cafe in mid-November.

Catherine Marsh and Tony Greenlaw star in "Sweeney Todd."

Ave Maria' offers powerful tale

Although it was played softly, "Ave
44 Played Softly" was also per-
formed deftly. The weighty subject mat-
ter of Milan Uhde's autobiographical
one-act - the
bringing to terms,-RI
of a family dealingA
with political and
social upheaval in
Nai and then, for
choslovakia -
skillfly and artfully handled.
lie story unfolds against a powerful
bsckdrop of Nazi, Czech and Soviet
flags silhouetting a stark, yet aestheti-
esily pleasing set of well-worn plat-
forms and filing cabinets. The opening
Interaction, however, was not nearly as
powerful. Beginning somewhat rigidly,
a grown son, Ivan Tischner (David
Wlber) asks his mother, HanaTischner
ise van Ort), whether she liked her
The ambiguous nature of Hana's
forn, namely if she is intended to be a
ghost or simply Ivan's construction of
her, creates an interesting dynamic.
Unfortunately, Wolber and van Ort,
while competent in their own respects,
failed to inspire the connection between

mother and child. Although they even-
tually warmed to each other, their for-
mal relationship seemed especially
troubling when, as their written interac-
tion develops, it becomes clear the
author intended a brutally honest rap-

Maria Plap
mance Network
Oct. 10,.1"?7

port to occur
The false start,
however, was soon
recovered as the
conversation that
followed took the
two back into their

life as a family, its battle with outside
evils and particularly the troubles
caused by the marriage's Catholic-
Jewish union.
The father, Frederick Tischner (Jon
Bennett), finds his job, as well as his
family's safety, threatened by the shad-
ow of Nazi Occupation, but the tragic
nature of Frederick's character is his
inability to face adversity with a firm
Thankfully, Bennett's comfortable
manner allowed Frederick's agitated,
anxious demeanor to remain realistic
and genuine. Especially poignant and
skillfully handled was his meeting with
the priest where he confesses his desire
to get a divorce. The easy bonds that
existed between Bennett and van Ot

and Bennett and Wolber, respectively,
worked well to present a distinct con-
trast to the uneasy relationships of their
As the Nazi occupation turns into a
Nazi way of life, Hana is forced to
extreme measutes to protect herself and
Ivan since both have Jewish blood. With
her father's consent she denounces him
and declares herself the child of an
affair between her mother and an
Aryan. Frederick, who believes this
action to be immoral, threatens divorce
and not for the first time. This becomes
the anthem of the Tischner family trials.
The saga of these events is brought to
the audience through the use of flash'
backs, sprinkled intermittently between
the conversations of Hana and !vanThe
transitions between young and old went
smoothly with the exception of a few
age-sensitive cliches. Both Nana and
Fred, however, iade an absolutely won-
derful older couple who operated with a
fluidity that bears atknowledgment.
The ensemble was equally strong,
providing sober supporting characters
who ranged in age and importance.
None of the secondary roles were treat-
ed lightly and this allowed the show,
overall, to present a nicely polished
Standing out among them was
Charlotte Leisinger. Her nuance was
superb and accentuated by her inclina-
tion toward subtlety. Out of all of her
roles in the production her portrayal of
Frederick's suicidal mother was
remarkable and stood out in an already
outstanding show.
Relationships take on a pivotal role in
"Ave Maria Played Softly." This produc-
tion recognized the importance of these
interactions, and in most instances,

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