Near the end of the splendid run of performances put on by Aquinas High School, The Augusta Chronicle published a “big rant to Aquinas High for putting on Sweeney Todd, a play featuring a murderous man who bakes his victims into pies. This type of play is inappropriate.”
In the days and weeks leading up to this melodrama, concerned individuals approached me as well as many of the other priests in the Augusta area, seeing in this musical a glorification of revenge, murder and cannibalism, which couldn’t be further from the truth. As the production of Sweeney Todd comes to a close, the cast returns to the stage in an epilogue to sing once again The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, this time reminding the audience that, in a world full of Sweeneys, revenge begets revenge. In other words, sin begets sin.
In many Shakespearean plays, The Count of Monte Cristo and even sacred Scripture, one finds precisely this reality of sin and the inner struggle of all humanity in the face of good and evil. Throughout this musical, Sweeney Todd, portrayed superbly by Dean Culpepper, is given this choice between good and evil, illustrated most powerfully in the encounters with the character Anthony Hope (Denton Boone) presented as a beacon of light in the darkness, drawing Mr. Todd from vengeful thoughts to true justice. At one point in the musical, Mrs. Lovett, played brilliantly by Rachel Singletary, offers Mr. Todd an invisible priest pie, as the two embark down the road to perdition.
As I stood in the back of the audience, I found it quite amusing to see all the heads turn from side to side, looking to see if an actual priest might be sitting nearby. This beautifully crafted scene really displayed how the act of sin naturally leads one to mock the clergy and even want to serve them on a platter. As one review of Sweeney Todd said, “So while vengeance is far from a Christian virtue, in this musical everyone gets their just desserts in the end. (And I don’t mean Mrs. Lovett’s pies.)” Sin begets sin, leading Sweeney Todd to such blindness that he fails to recognize the one he loved so dearly.
So was it inappropriate for Aquinas to have such a performance? I think not. Rather, I want to thank faculty member A.J. Lloyd and Aquinas for teaching the audience about the struggle of good and evil, while magnificently displaying where we ultimately end up by our evil choices.
The Rev. Justin Ferguson
(The writer is parochial vicar at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Grovetown.)