New Hampshire High School Production of Sweeney Todd Will Go On as Scheduled

By Michael Gioia
09 Apr 2014

Sweeney Todd composer Stephen Sondheim
Sweeney Todd composer Stephen Sondheim

Following a public, performing-arts forum with Timberlane Regional School District superintendent Earl Metzler that was held April 2, the previously cancelled 2015 Timberlane High School production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Tony Award-winning musical Sweeney Todd will go on as scheduled.

As previously reported, superintendent Metzler put a stop to the specially revised school edition of the musical because of concerns over the nature of the story.

After Sweeney Todd: School Edition was put to a stop March 24, students and parents took action over social media to reinstate the production on the school's calendar. A Facebook page, community survey and school-circulated petition paved the way for the public forum.

"The first thing I'd like to do is take this opportunity to thank our students, parents, community members and others for their participation, and interest in, Timberlane's student drama offerings," Metzler said in a statement issued to Playbill.com. "I've heard from both those who support our students' participation in this production and from those with concerns about the production's message, content and violent undertones. Both sides have offered extremely compelling arguments."



The April 2 forum, according to the statement, was attended by over 300 individuals, where testimony and rationalizations in favor of the Sweeney Todd production were presented.

"Having moderated this session and seeing an overwhelming display of support for the arts, I am pleased to say I am very impressed and am convinced that Timberlane houses the most respectful students," he continued. "Regardless of which side of the position one finds him or herself, one thing we can all agree on is that our students, as evidenced at this forum, are the very best.

"Concerns about the production's contents were brought to my attention in the spring of 2013. These concerns were at the time, and continue to be, the basis of the reasons this production was put on hold. As superintendent of schools, I am charged with overseeing all aspects of the school district, including drama curriculum and productions. As such, it is important that our program offerings be suitable for our students, and in the case of drama productions to be presented to the general public, suitable for most, if not all, audiences.

"I have reviewed and approved Sweeney Todd production adaptations submitted by the drama department that address my concerns as well as the concerns raised by others. Our students will perform the school edition of Sweeney Todd created by Sondheim for Music Theatre International. This version includes changes to the script and the song lyrics to tone down the overt sexual references and the use of more gruesome visuals. There are also adaptations made to make the play more palatable to the community at large, while remaining true to the underlying themes of injustice and human suffering. And finally, the drama department will provide an opportunity for our drama students to participate in an alternative production.

"We live in an age where visual and special effects have become a production's attraction; not the actors and actresses that pour their hearts and souls into their performances. Here at Timberlane, our attraction, our mission and our focus, are our students. I believe that Timberlane's 2015 production of Sweeney Todd will far surpass our previous productions, not because of any script or prop adaptations, but because of our students' determination to succeed and their passion for the arts.

"There are numerous people whom I wish to thank for their contributions to this resolution: Theatre teacher Mr. Eric Constantineau, director of performing arts Mr. Tony DiBartolomeo, executive director of curriculum and professional learning Ms. Deb Armfield, director of high school alternative and continuing education Scott Strainge and high school principal Don Woodworth for their oversight of the adaptation process and to Mr. Randall Mikkelsen for his contribution as community liaison for the Timberlane Players."

(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)