For its current production, The Heritage Players invite the audience to “attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.”
Featuring a 26 piece orchestra, nine principals and a 17 -member chamber choir, it is not your typical production of “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” the 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler.
“It’s a concert production,” said Daivd Zajic, music director. “The music takes center stage for this production.”
While Sweeney Todd will still give too-close shaves to fill Mrs. Lovett’s popular meat pies, the story will be told with very few props, costumes or stage movements.
Rather the story will be carried along by the music, performed by the singers and the Fleet Street Orchestra, which was created for this show and includes an organist, a harp player and many members of the Columbia Orchestra.
“We are creating a concert that continues to be interesting,” said Zajic, the principle violist for the Columbia Orchestra and its guest conductor. “There is motion. There is drama. I love this piece.”
Since its beginnings in Pikesville in 1975, The Heritage Players have entertained audiences with its productions of plays and musicals. In 1996, the group moved to Catonsville United Methodist Church, where it remained until 2009, when it set up residence in the Thomas Rice Auditorium at Spring Grove Hospital, according to Robin Trenner, who first joined the group in 1985 and has the honor of being the longest member.
“It’s a beautiful theater,” said Trenner, of Heritage Players’ current home. “It’s bigger than any of the other stages Heritage Players has performed on.”
While Spring Grove and another organization have first dibs on the building, The Heritage Players have been able to produce multiple shows a year.
“We all work together to make it work,” said Trenner, who lives in Fulton. “They are very flexible with us. It has been fabulous.”
The group’s location in Catonsville also helps to attract performers from all over the area, she said.
“We just come from everywhere,” Trenner said. “We have a core group that meets every month and we get new people. We are open to everyone.”
A portion of each show’s profits are donated to charities. Brain Injury Association of Maryland is the recipient this year as is Spring Grove patient services.
Last year’s show “Titanic” was The Heritage Players’ first concert production and Zajic’s first show with the group.
“I had not heard of this company,” Zajic said. “I got this cold call that they were looking for a musical director for ‘Titanic’ to do a concert production. That really appealed to me.”
Zajic recruited several musicians from the Columbia Orchestra to create the Fleet Street Orchestra.
“As a classically trained musician, it is a good fit with our training and our abilities to adjust to different styles of music,” said Deborah Chen, a cellist with the group from Fulton. “It’s teamwork, taking groups with different parts to play and perform together to make something enjoyable for the audience. There’s a sense of accomplishment at the end.”
The music, Zajic said, is “very advanced” in terms of harmonies and rhythms.
“This is a bucket list piece for me,” Zajic said. “I first proposed it in March 2018. It is a very popular show. Ours is less staged but a more complete picture of the entire score.”
Putting the show together has been a challenge for Gary Pullen, the dramatic director.
“There is no choreography but there is blocking,” said Pullen, an Eldersburg resident. “Costumes are vey simple, black and white, with some color here and there. The focus is on the music.”
While there will be a barber chair, it will be only a chair, Pullen said. There is a razor, and Mrs Lovett will have a cleaver.
“I wear an apron because I have to have a place to keep my cleaver, “ laughed Kay-Megan Washington, who has the role of Mrs. Lovett. Formerly of Howard County and now of Baltimore, Washington has played the role before, but not quite like now.
“It’s different. You don’t have to run around the stage singing but in some ways it’s harder,” Washington said. “You can’t hide a wonky note behind the acting because you’re standing right there.”
The group, she added, is very professional.
“I have been wanting to work with them [the Heritage Players] for some time,” Washington said. “We ‘ve pulled it together really well. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Elizabeth Skola Davis, of Columbia, was also impressed with the professionalism of the group. A cellist in the orchestra, Davis, of Columbia, found out about the group through Zajic with whom she performs with in the Columbia Orchestra.
“They are very well organized and solidly put together,” Davis said, of The Heritage Players.. “The chorus is so good. All of the cast is spot on.”
The fact the show offers a full orchestra impressed Rachel Sandler, of Hanover, who will be making her first appearance with the group as the character Johanna.
“It is really rare to have such an amazing orchestra for a community show,” Sandler said. “There is so much talent.”
As the orchestra started to warm up around him at a recent rehearsal, Zajic couldn’t stop smiling.
“I fell in love with this group. I love these people,” Zajic said. “They are doing the kind of community theater that really appeals to me.”