When the revival of Sweeney Todd opened this fall, a lot of fans of the show were taken aback by the new approach to the classic material; the cast was smaller and they all played instruments; the set was vastly different; it takes place in an asylum; and Patty Lupone plays tuba? As the show changed, so did the lighting by British LD Richard G. Jones who based his Broadway design–his first American production–on his original UK rigs.
"The main challenge was looking at the show in a different light," Jones explains, ignoring the pun. "Instead of giving it the traditional dark and Victorian kind of feel, we gave it a brighter more antiseptic look since it does take place in an insane asylum." To further make the show less, well, showy, Jones uses no followspots at all. "It's become expected that there will be a followspot at the end of every number," he adds. "We've deliberately not done that, which has made the show very rich with cues and specials."
Also, the decision was made early on, when Sweeney was playing in the UK, to use followspots based on the tiny venue, the Watermill Theatre in Newbury which is, as its name implies, an old mill building that seats only 250 about 20 miles outside of London. Even after bowing on the West End and touring the UK, the LD maintained the stark look of the show despite moving on to much bigger venues and adding more instruments to the rig.
Jones credits his American associate LD Paul Miller with helping him get the Broadway version up and running with no stumbles. "We worked together quite a bit on a lot of little things we changed, but we maintained the integrity of the show," he explains. "I think it makes it challenging and interesting that it's different. People questioned the way we did things, but I think that's really healthy from a designer's point of view."
Throughout the show, the overhead and side rigs are visible to the audience, which, Jones says, is another huge difference that a lot of people were unsure of. And those rigs are loaded with "masses of [ETC] Source Four Profiles on lots of booms. It's very side lit." Jones was asked to change some of his lights to Source Four PARs but he preferred the original Thomas PAR cans, which caused lighting supplier PRG to hunt for more since they do not typically stock such a large quantity. The only moving lights are six City Theatrical AutoYokes that come into play for specials and additional coverage. "They're our 'get out of jail free card'," Jones says of the AutoYokes' usefulness and reliability. Jones programmed the show on an ETC Obsession console.
Sweeney Todd is directed by John Doyle, who also designed the sets and the costumes (now that's convergence!) with sound design by Dan Moses Schreier. The show is playing at the Eugene O'Neill Theater.