Sweeney’s Bod: The making of Sweeny Todd Burlesque

Posted: April 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

When I was a little girl my mom told me the story of Sweeney Todd.  I’m not sure why.  I couldn’t have been more than six.  But my mom did this all the time.  A certain play or movie would come up in conversation (as often happens in a theatre family) and she would tell me the story as if it was a fairytale.  Of the stories she told me when I was really little I only remember Sweeney Todd, a Streetcar Named Desire and Phantom of the Paradise.  And I’ve been obsessed with all of them since (despite the fact that even I can’t deny that Phantom of the Paradise is a horrible movie, albeit one with a good story and a great soundtrack.)

But back to Sweeney Todd.  I knew it was great because my mom said so, and the story sounded pretty badass.  When I was 10, my family went to England and I insisted that we go to Sweeney Todd’s barber shop.  My favorite song on the Forbidden Broadway Volume 2 tape we had was their send up “Teeny Todd.”

I have no idea why it has pokemon illustrations.

Strangely enough, I never actually saw the play.  I never even really heard the soundtrack since my parents only had it on vinyl and we rarely broke out the record player.  So for most of my life Sweeney Todd was something that just existed in my head.  I never saw the reality until the movie came out.  Needless to say, I fell in love.

Nothing in my head can compete with Johnny Depp.

Cut to last year:  The cast of Epic Win is drinking after having a totally awesome Star Trek vs Star Wars show and someone (I think it was Schaffer but my memory is not to be trusted) said we should do a Rated R for Violence show.  And we went NUTS.  Seriously nuts.  In nearly an instant everyone had act ideas and BIG plans about GIANT gushing rivers of blood all over the stage.  It would be a bloodbath.  Kinda like this:

But with more nudity.

I actually would have done exactly that scene with more nudity if I had the time, money and know how.

Since I couldn’t do the Addam’s Family scene, it’s no surprise that I opted for Sweeney Todd. At first I wanted to start as Mrs. Lovett and strip down to a Sweeney costume and further strip down to, well, probably meat pie pasties and merkin.  BUT then I realized that it was probably not humanly possible to do that (or at least do it well) and if it was possible it was at the very least beyond my current skillset.  If I had all the money ever,  and could hire professional wig and costume makers I think I could do it.  Hell, if I had all the time and a good amount of money, I could probably do it myself eventually.  But I have neither of those things, so I cut back to just dressing like Todd.  And that proved challenging enough.

The only problem with an onstage bloodbath is, well, the blood.  As a second generation costume designer I have been raised to hate and fear fake blood in all it’s permutations.  Whatever the hell you make it out of, it has to have *some* kind of red dye in it and that dye is going to stain the hell out of your costumes, YOUR PRECIOUS PRECIOUS COSTUMES!!!!

Nelson Lugo has a recipe that he swears up and down won’t stain and he’s probably right.  I went to the Evil Dead Musical wearing a white shirt specifically bought to be stained in the splash zone and it didn’t stain at all.  They probably used this stuff.  My costumes probably won’t get stained.  HOWEVER we have to do two shows consecutively and my paranoia is lifelong and DEEP.  So I had to make sure that everything I wore was made from synthetic fabric.  Which meant I had to make everything myself.  Thank, freaking, God I went with the “simpler” concept.

Since Sweeney Todd is more than the movie (it’s been numerous productions, short stories, movies, a ballet etc) I decided not to slavishly copy the costume in the film.  My design is still heavily based on the movie but I took a lot of liberties to make it my own.

I started with an idea board on polyvore.com

I really dig on polyvore for this.  I don’t really know or understand what other people do with it, but it’s great for designing costumes.  Then I did some rough sketches while choreographing/designing the number in my head.  This is probably the first time my costume and act have evolved alongside each other.  Usually I have the act figured out pretty quickly (usually within a few times listening to the song) but this time they informed each other and grew together.
Once I had an idea of what I wanted, I went through my fabric stash, which is massive.  I get annoyed at myself when I buy fabric these days because I literally have PILES of it and I need to run through it before my mom dies and I inherit all of her fabric (which no one could ever possibly hope to run through.)  I tried to keep my ideas kind of open ended and sketchy so that I could use as much stuff I already owned as possible.  I did pretty well, I only bought one piece of new fabric.  Of course, I bought too much so it’s now been added to the piles.
This post is already long and there’s A LONG way to go so we’ll break it up into a few posts.  Coming next:  Adventures in Sewing!

Let's take a break...

  1. I am quietly psyched about this show.

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