Elizabeth Barrett and Gabriel Macdonald star in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Nelson’s summer of Sweeney

Standing next to a barber chair, Gabriel Macdonald has truly gotten into the mindset of his morose character, Sweeney Todd.

Standing next to a barber chair on the Capitol Theatre stage, Gabriel Macdonald has truly gotten into the mindset of his morose character, Sweeney Todd.

In a moment between scenes, he calls across the room to his mother, Allison Girvan, who’s musical director for the show.

“Hey, Mom?” the 17-year-old says. “When I die — instead of donating my body to science — I think I’d like to donate it to cannibals. Those poor people…”

He’s joking, of course, and a moment later he’s back to playing the part of the blood thirsty barber who slits the throats of his unfortunate customers and gives the bodies to his landlady, Mrs. Lovett (played by Elizabeth Barrett), to use in her meat pies.

Opening tomorrow at the Capitol Theatre, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the 25th annual production of theatre’s Summer Youth Program. The cast of 33 young people, ages 12 to 20, have been rehearsing together six hours per day since the beginning of the month — while the show’s nine principal actors have been going over the music with Girvan since April.

It’s a vocally challenging show, written almost entirely in song, which is exactly the type of show Macdonald prefers.

“The less lines I have to say the better,” he tells the Star outside rehearsals last week.

This is his ninth time in the Youth Theatre Program, and may well be his last in an acting capacity. In September he’s moving to Victoria to attend the Canadian College of Performing Art.

Barrett, who’s also 17, has been in five of the summer shows at the Capitol. But she says this year’s has been a highlight for her.

“I’m extremely excited; I adore this show,” she says. “It’s the most complicated show I’ve been a part of, definitely.”

Director Geoff Burns says all the actors have been serious about learning their parts and staying focused through the long rehearsals.

“We auditioned more than 60 kids for the show. Everyone who got a part, we know they really want to be here and they’re committed 100 per cent,” Burns says. “They work with us all day, then go home and practice on their own in the evenings. They’re basically giving up half their summer to be part of this — and they’re doing it by choice.”

He says the kids get a lot out of the program. They basically get to learn step-by-step exactly what goes into a professional production. For those considering a career in acting, it’s an invaluable experience.

For 12-year-old Ecco Haake who’s taking part in the Youth Theatre Program for the first time, the past month has been an opportunity to improve her singing skills.

“I’d definitely do it again,” says the Castlegar tween who will be attending Stanley Humphries in the fall. “It’s way better than anything I would have been doing at home.”

She says she watched the summer shows at the Capitol from the audience for several years, looking forward to finally being old enough to take part in one herself.

“All the directors and everyone are super talented and I’m learning so much from them,” she says. “It’s been a really incredible experience.”

Sweeney Todd runs Thursday to Sunday at 7:30 p.m. nightly. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students or $45 for a family of four, and are available in advance at the Capitol Theatre box office or online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca. To charge by phone, call 250-352-6363.