It's one of the darkest love stories ever told.
"I see 'Sweeney Todd' as a love story throughout," says Jeffrey DeVincent, who is directing the Stephen Sondheim musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" for the Bay Street Theatre. The production opens Aug. 9.
What, a musical about murder and cannibalism is a love story?
"Mrs. Lovett kept Sweeney's knives for 20 years when she could have sold them," DeVincent insists. "One of the biggest nuggets for me is that she was madly in love with Sweeney before he went away."
Technically, there is more than one love story in "Sweeney Todd," but who's counting? With everything else that's going on, this is one spellbinding musical.
"It's a fantastic show," DeVincent says. "We're all having a super blast. Some folks haven't left the theater in 48 hours.
"The cast is quite brilliantly talented and Bay Street Theatre is an interesting space," he says. "The musical is all focused on character, character, character."
DeVincent chose "Sweeney" because of his taste for black comedy.
"I also have a taste for love stories and good storytelling," he says. "This one maintains truth, truth, truth, but it is very much askew."
IF YOU GO
What: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24 and 25
Where: Bay Street Theatre, 1 Jefferson St.
Sweeney, whose real name is Benjamin Barker, is out for revenge.
Sweeney's wife was abducted and raped by the lecherous judge, who took in his daughter to raise while Sweeney was deported on a false charge.
He returns to avenge his family, setting up a barbershop over Mrs. Lovett's pie shop, and provides her with "filling" for her pies.
Yes, Sweeney carries out his vengeful plans, but the outcome is bitterly ironic - and loads of fun for the audience.
The BST version sets "Sweeney" not in Victorian times, but in 1918, hours after World War I has ended and the deadly Spanish influenza pandemic is at its height.
"I really like the Edwardian era," DeVincent says. "It's an interesting twist and you are not going to find anything quite like this anywhere."
Because of the small size of the theater, the stage is not used in the traditional sense.
"There's a separate barbershop island, a separate island for the judge," DeVincent says. "Some of my former students are building the barber chair."
The biggest challenge so far is that everything had to be done in just five weeks, including the tech work.
"This would take two months for an Equity company," DeVincent says.
"The auditions were held in May during finals week at SCAD, but nobody was available to do a show until July 1," he says. "Yet we are somehow coming together. Despite the tremendous time constraint, there is total dedication here - also a bit of audacity."
The musical director is Brandon Kaufman, musical director at the Savannah Children's Theatre. Travis Coles is designing the set.
Cecilia Tran Arango plays Mrs. Lovett.
"It is an awesome role," she says. "I've always wanted to play a character who is super creepy.
"And I've never played an actual role that had an accent. I will say I was a bit intimidated because I didn't know if I could pull a Cockney accent off.
"I never saw the Broadway production but I saw the movie," Arango says. "I loved the whole dark, sinister feel of it."
One challenge has been learning the music.
"It's tough, tough music to learn," Arango says.
"Also, my time management is crazy ridiculous. I'm training for a marathon and my kids are going back to school.
"Jeff wants a certain stance for Mrs. Lovett," she says. "My stature is completely different, and it's taking a lot of getting used to."
Arango began doing theater in high school but scaled back after having a family.
"In 2010, I auditioned for my first part with Bay Street Theatre," she says.
"Ever since then, it's addicting, I can't let it go. I keep telling myself I need a break. Theater is consuming my life right now.
"But all these good shows keep popping up," Arango says. "I want to audition for all of them."
Audiences should not plan on getting the same version of the show they've seen before.
"It is definitely completely different from what they're expecting," she says. "If they liked the movie or have seen prior adaptations, our take on 'Sweeney Todd' is so completely out there that it's going to be like watching a completely new show. We've got to be creative with the space given to us at Bay Street Theatre. This is going to be really, really, really interesting."
Playing the role of Sweeney Todd is Christopher Blair. He says the cast has been busy.
"We are trying to get into a maniacal mind," Blair says. "Sondheim is unique in his approach and songwriting styles. We've been working really hard."
The music has been challenging for Blair.
"This is the first legit singing role I've had in over 10 years," he says.
"Most every other show I've done has been rock 'n' roll songs or a character role. With Sweeney, it's been a little more legit singing.
"That's been very fun for me to get back into," Blair says. "I haven't sung a Sondheim song in 11 or 12 years. It's so nice to come back after being away."
The actors are amazing, Blair says.
"The cast is just blowing me away left and right," he says. "It's a wonderful ensemble.
"All of the principle characters are fantastic and we have Jeff DeVincent, who puts his own stamp on everything. That is definitely true with 'Sweeney.'
"I worked with him in 'Cabaret' and he directed the first 'Rocky Horror' I was in," Blair says. "He mentioned doing 'Sweeney Todd' when I was first cast in 'Rocky Horror' and I've been waiting five years for him to do it, so I'm really, really happy."
Audiences should definitely come out to see the production, Blair says.
"There are some things you will expect and a lot of things you will not expect that are wonderful surprises," he says.
"It's a story of desperate love at the level of Shakespeare or opera but also a dark comedy," DeVincent adds. "There is so much humor involved."