FARGO — The modern appetite for a good startle may change, but some classics remain just as chilling today.

From one season to another, the scale of scary swells into gorier stunts and more horrifying plotlines. However, only one musical can bring comedy into the dark world of Halloween horrors.

With opening weekend under their belt, the actors at Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre (FMCT) present “Sweeney Todd” on The Stage at Island Park. The story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street combines a little wit and fright to meet at the sharp edge of fantasy and flame.

“Since the birth of the internet, I'd say there are very few things that we as a people find shocking, but there is a good reason this show is still beloved after all these years,” says Clayton Perala, who's starring as Sweeney Todd in the production.

Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre is taking on the classic "Sweeney Todd" this month. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum
Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre is taking on the classic "Sweeney Todd" this month. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum

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First introduced through a thick London fog, the mysterious barber arrives on stage with a large leather duffel and sharp-collared coat, back from 15 years of imprisonment. Perala, whose last role was Danny in the summer 2018 production of “Xanadu,” is tasked with playing the disharmonious role of an antihero on a vengeful quest who plunges his victims down a trapdoor at the pull of a lever.

“I've always been a fan of Wes Craven, the creator of the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' and 'Scream' movies prior to his passing,” Perala says. “He always knew that it wasn't just about the killing or the gore, there was always a story to be told.”

At the start, a story of friendship, love and community unravel into chaos in the “city on fire.” But before the first drop of fake blood is drawn, Sweeney sets up shop above Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. A frilly preamble combines sweet melodies with the sour rattle of chains.

Main characters Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, played by Clayton Perala and Shelby Cochran, reunite to form a diabolical partnership seeking revenge. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum
Main characters Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, played by Clayton Perala and Shelby Cochran, reunite to form a diabolical partnership seeking revenge. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum

“To me, I see 'Sweeney Todd' as a dark musical comedy first and a thriller second,” says Shelby Cochran, who plays the role of Mrs. Lovett. “There are a ton of popular TV shows and movies from the past few years that feature a lot of the same elements we have in our show, including dark comedy, camp, and an antihero as the main character.”

The story has been told many times and in many ways, including in a Tim Burton-directed film version in 2007 that starred Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but the intricacy and energy brought to the production by the FMCT cast brings new life to the timeless story. At any one point, a laugh may turn to a fright, resulting in a shout from the very shock.

“Each character is grappling with the line in his or her heart, and the plot unfolds from there,” says Rachel Rebischke, who plays the eccentric role of beggar woman. “There are moments that are genuinely heartwarming and funny, and other moments that are horrifying. These characters are telling a story that is complicated but ultimately relatable to any audience member who has a heart.”

Artistic Director Adam Pankow is responsible for making the theatrical undertaking a reality. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum
Artistic Director Adam Pankow is responsible for making the theatrical undertaking a reality. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum

FMCT Artistic Director Adam Pankow is responsible for bringing the theatrical undertaking to life. With many moving pieces on the stage and off, including a staircase on wheels and an off-sight musical ensemble, the logistics of “Sweeney Todd” are reminiscent of a giant puzzle.

With experience working across the country with a variety of theater organizations, Pankow returned to the Fargo area where he attended Minnesota State University Moorhead and graduated with a B.S. in English education. He is a familiar face to the local theater community, having spent the last 10 years as the theater director first at West Fargo High School and then, upon its completion, at Sheyenne High School.

Be sure to catch the weekend showings of “Sweeney Todd” at The Stage at Island Park through Nov 2.

With numerous revivals, “Sweeney Todd” opened on Broadway in 1979, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical and Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum
With numerous revivals, “Sweeney Todd” opened on Broadway in 1979, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical and Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum
Prepare for a real fright with dramatic lighting, moving set pieces and a lifted set above Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum
Prepare for a real fright with dramatic lighting, moving set pieces and a lifted set above Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. Perry Rust / Special to The Forum

If you go

What: “Sweeney Todd” by FMCT

When: Upcoming performances are scheduled at 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, and Saturday, Oct. 26, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27

Where: The Stage at Island Park, 333 Fourth St. S., Fargo

Info: Tickets available online ranging from $15 to $25; fmct.org

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.