• "Sweeney Todd" and the Tradition of Pie and Mash

    Beth Fhaner
     | Dec 14, 2018
    Pie and Mash

    Traditional pie and mash.

    A London food tradition since the days of Queen Victoria, “pie and mash”—a small meat pie served with a side of mashed potatoes and an optional herbed parsley sauce known as “liquor”—was often the only hot meal one might eat in a day. Affordable, filling and tasty, the staple dish provided sustenance for hungry families and workers alike. The first recorded pie and mash shop opened in Southward in 1844, but it wasn’t long before pie sellers roamed the streets and pie shops were ubiquitous. The hearty dish quickly became synonymous with working-class London.

    With Mrs. Lovett’s struggling pie shop figuring prominently in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, it seems fitting that a pre-show meal consisting of pie and mash would become a theatre-going tradition. When Sweeney Todd played in London in 2014, and then later in New York City in 2017, audience members would arrive early to enjoy a pre-show experience of indulging in delicious pie and mash. Find recipes and read about the London menu here.

    For Barrow Street Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd in Manhattan, former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses took on the role of official pie maker, serving-up three varieties of pie and mash (meat pie and mash, vegetarian pie and mash and beef wellington pie and mash) to patrons who had opted in for the pre-show meal. Read about this at NPR and check out recipes.

    Although SCR doesn't have an official chef on-site to whip-up meat pies, you can still partake in the Sweeney Todd pre-show tradition with savory pie and mash that you prepare at home. Bon Appetit!

    Read more about the Sweeney Todd pre-show tradition of meat pies, plus recipes and where to find pie and mash in London in this Daily Telegraph article.

    Learn more about Sweeney Todd and buy tickets.

  • Marking a Milestone: The Segerstrom Stage at 40

    Beth Fhaner & Tania Thompson
     | Dec 12, 2018
    South Coast Repertory in 1978

    ​South Coast Repertory in 1978.

    Segerstrom Stage by the Numbers

    Dedicated to extraordinary plays—timeless classics, modern masterpieces and emerging new works.

    • 224 productions (out of 520 total by the start of the 2018-19 season)
    • Productions have been honored with 71 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, the most prestigious Southern California recognition for theatrical work.
    • 49 world premieres

    This season, South Coast Repertory celebrates 55 years of theatre and also marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Segerstrom Stage.

    By 1976, a little more than a decade after its founding, SCR had grown in size, caliber and renown. It was primed to achieve the final part of a four-step growth plan envisioned by Founding Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson: a permanent home in which SCR could fulfill its artistic goals.

    Emmes and Benson, along with the theatre’s Board of Trustees, had scouted out what they saw as the ideal location: near South Coast Plaza, where Interstate 405 and State Route 55 came together. But how to make this happen? The founders and trustees hit on an idea: talk to Henry Segerstrom and the Segerstrom family.

    The Segerstroms were deeply rooted in Orange County with strong agricultural and other business holdings. The family’s South Coast Plaza, which had more than 130 stores by the mid-1970​s, drew shoppers from the region and nation—and, ultimately, the globe.

    The family, as noted in 50 Years of Quality: South Coast Plaza, was and is “united in its conviction that public art and the performing arts were indispensable to any major metropolitan development, and that cultural activities were a key ingredient to successful urban planning.”

    Henry Segerstrom knew about SCR because of his deep connection and commitment to the arts and he had attended performances at SCR’s 217-seat theatre in Costa Mesa.

    “He was an extraordinary man, whose love for the arts shaped Orange County,” says Emmes. “We are deeply grateful for his vision—as well as the entire Segerstrom Family—that created a permanent home for SCR.”

    In 1976, a year after The New York Times lauded SCR for its production of three contemporary British plays, the Segerstrom Family gifted the theatre 1.5 acres of a former lima bean field on which to build its new home. The land gift became the catalyst for what was Orange County’s largest-to-date capital campaign—and led to the theatre’s permanent home.

    “This marvelous theatre complex fulfilled our four-step vision and enabled us to ascend to a new level of achievement,” says Emmes.

    The theatre was designed for versatility and theatricality, along with all the needed shops to build costumes, set pieces, props and more. Its intimate space has seen a range of productions, everything from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller to musicals to important new plays and more.

    The collaborative spirit is a hallmark of SCR and one example of this manifested itself on Sept. 29, 1978, when the theatre moved into its current location. That day, all 507 seats for the Segerstrom Stage were trucked in—but with no crew to unload them. SCR staff and some of the company actors pitched in to unload the huge trailer by hand. Sixty days later, The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan became the first production in the new space. The fourth and final step had been achieved. The future was—and continues to be—bright.

    Learn more about the 2018-19 season.

  • Family Affair: A Grandfather and Granddaughter Share the Stage in "A Christmas Carol"

    Beth Fhaner
     | Dec 10, 2018
    Hal Landon Jr. and Presley Coogan in A Christmas Carol

    Hal Landon Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge and his grandaughter, Presley Coogan, as Tiny Tim in SCR's 39th annual production of A Christmas Carol.

    Hal Landon, Jr. has been portraying Ebenezer Scrooge in SCR’s A Christmas Carol for nearly 40 years. As one of the longest-tenured Scrooges in the nation, Landon has been recognized by The New York Times for his performances and longevity. Performing in his iconic role in this year’s 39th production of A Christmas Carol marks a special time for Landon, as he gets to share the stage with his 9-year-old granddaughter, Presley Coogan, who stars as Tiny Tim (on the Green Team).

    After taking acting classes at SCR’s Theatre Conservatory and going through the arduous audition process for A Christmas Carol, Coogan was elated to find out that she’d been cast in this year’s production of the holiday classic. In our Q&A with both grandfather and granddaughter, we get their thoughts on the beloved play that has become Orange County’s favorite holiday tradition.

    For Hal—How has the role of Ebenezer Scrooge evolved for you over the years, and did you ever dream you’d be playing this character for nearly four decades?

    Hal: The way in which I have played the role of Scrooge has evolved in a number of ways. Just the fact that I was so much younger when I first played the part and am now so much older has caused the characterization to evolve. My main hope is that the characterization has become more fully realized over the years. It is a complex and challenging role in terms of the types and degrees of emotions that Scrooge expresses in the course of the play. I know that wrestling with—and working on this challenge—has made me a better actor and, I hope, has enabled me to more fully realize the character with each passing year​. I knew SCR wanted to make A Christmas Carol an annual tradition, but I don’t think anyone was thinking about continuing for 40 years.

    What do you enjoy the most about playing the character of Ebenezer Scrooge?

    Hal: Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about being in A Christmas Carol is the reaction of the audience and not just when the play is being performed. Many people tell me they have been coming for as many as 20 years or more. Some of those people first brought their children and now those children are bringing their children. Knowing how much the show means to people is one of the things that bring me back every year.

    What’s it like to be sharing the stage this year with your granddaughter, Presley, in the role of Tiny Tim?

    Hal: Presley and I have always enjoyed acting together off stage. Whenever I babysit with her and her sister, Hadley, we do our own improvised versions of stories like Cinderella, Peter Pan and The Three Bears.  We’ve improvised so much that the stories bear only a slight resemblance to the originals. So, it will be a tremendous joy to share the stage with my granddaughter, as I did with my daughter, Caroline, some 21 years ago.

    For Presley​—What’s your first memory of seeing your grandfather Hal onstage, and what’s it like to now be sharing the stage with him in A Christmas Carol?

    Presley: I remember being so excited that I was going to get to see him as Scrooge. It’s amazing getting to share the stage with him! 

    What do you enjoy the most about playing the character of Tiny Tim?

    Presley: That I get to come in on Bob Cratchit’s shoulders. Then I’m the tallest person onstage! 

    How does it help your acting studies by working with the adults in the cast, and who inspires you as an actor?

    Presley: They are so nice and help me not to be nervous. My grandpa inspires me. 

    What are you most looking forward to with this year’s production of A Christmas Carol?

    Hal: Of course, I’m really looking forward to being in the play with Presley, but also to see what new things the cast and I can bring to the play.

    Presley: I am very excited to perform in front of an audience. 

    What is your favorite part about the holiday season?

    Hal: Since A Christmas Carol has pretty much dominated the holiday season for me and my family for these many years, one of my favorite parts has become the Christmas Eve performances. There is a wonderfully heightened atmosphere in the theatre that makes those shows quite special.

    Presley: Spending time with family is my favorite part. 

    Learn more about A Christmas Carol and buy tickets.

  • The Worldwide Phenomenon of "Sweeney Todd"

    SCR Staff
     | Dec 06, 2018
    Sweeney Todd Logo

    Excitement is high for Sweeney Todd, the Tony Award-winning​ Stephen Sondheim musical that plays on the Segerstrom Stage (Jan. 19 – Feb. 16). In a barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s struggling pie shop, Sweeney Todd plots revenge on the lecherous judge who wronged him and his family. In the seedy underbelly of 19th-century London, desperate times lead to diabolical schemes—and strange alliances. See the timeline below to find out how this fascinating and endlessly inventive musical became a worldwide phenomenon.

    String of Pearls Penny Dreadful

    ​​The String of Pearls - ​the ​original ​penny ​dreadful featuring Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet

    Sweeney Todd Broadway Poster

    The original Sweeney Todd Broadway production poster.

    Sweeney Todd Movie Poster

    The original Sweeney Todd movie poster.

    1846: The character of Sweeney Todd is introduced in serialized Victorian popular fiction (known as “penny dreadfuls”—sold for a penny) in a story called The String of Pearls. Set in 1785, the story featured as its principal villain a certain Sweeney Todd and included all the plot elements that were used by Sondheim and others ever since.

    1973: The play Sweeney Todd: ​The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond debuted at Theatre Royal Stratford East, where Sondheim saw it and first began to conceive the idea for a musical. Sondheim noted, “It had a weight to it . . . because [Bond] wrote certain characters in blank verse. He also infused into it plot elements from Jacobean tragedy and The Count of Monte Cristo. He was able to take all these disparate elements that had been in existence rather dully for a hundred and some-odd years and make them into a first-rate play.”

    1979: The musical version of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (based on the play) by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, premiered, directed by Hal Prince and starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. The production was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning eight including Best Musical.

    1980: The musical premieres on London’s West End at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The production was nominated for three Olivier Awards and won two, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1980. A U.S. national tour is launched.

    1987: The State Opera of South Australia presented the musical as Australia's first professional production in Adelaide.

    1989: The first Broadway revival opens at Circle in the Square Theatre. This production received four Tony Award nominations.

    1993: The show receives its first London revival at the Royal National Theatre. This production received six Olivier Award nominations and won four Olivier Awards including Best Musical Revival.

    1995: It premiered in Catalan at the theat​re Poliorama of Barcelona (later moving to the Apolo Theatre), in a production of the Drama Centre of the Government of Catalonia. The show received more than 15 awards.

    1997: The 1997 Finnish National Opera production premiered.

    2004: John Doyle directed a revival of the musical that was subsequently transferred to the West End. The production was notable because there was no orchestra, and the cast played all of the instruments. It was nominated for two Olivier Awards.

    2005: Doyle’s West End production was transferred to Broadway, starring Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris. It was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two.

    2007: A feature film adaptation of the musical was released, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp (who received a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for his performance) and Helena Bonham Carter as Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett.

    2012: Another West End revival is produced starring Imelda Staunton, garnering six Olivier Awards and winning three.

    2015: A production runs at the Pieter Toerien Monte Casino Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa, before transferring to the Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town.

    2015-18: Cameron Mackintosh produces the West End transfer of a site-specific production that ran at an actual pie shop in London. In 2017, this production transferred off-Broadway to the Barrow Street Theatre, where it was extended until February 2018.

    Learn more about SCR's Sweeney Todd and buy tickets.

  • From Audience Member to Acting Student

    Tania Thompson
     | Nov 29, 2018

    A Christmas Carol Inspires Rachel Stossel (and Her Mom)

    Christine and Rachel Stossel with Scrooge

    ​Christine and Rachel Stossel 

    The house lights dimmed and a swell of music wafted through the Segerstrom Stage. It was November 2017 and Rachel Stossel and her mother, Christine, were at South Coast Repertory to see A Christmas Carol for the first time. Its magic stunned, charmed and inspired—and within a week, Rachel enrolled in the Theatre Conservatory including Summer Acting Workshop and regular year classes. And came to see A Christmas Carol again in 2018.

    There’s a Lot to Love About A Christmas Carol

    “I loved the show last year!” Rachel, now a second-year acting student, confesses. “I think that this year, I paid more attention to the acting, rather than the simple entertainment of the show. The way the actors talked, the subtle similarities between the many characters played by the same actor and what they did to make that character their own—all things I didn't notice last year!” 

    Her mom, Christine, equally fell in love with the iconic holiday show.

    “I didn't know what to expect, but I certainly didn't think I'd be laughing and cheering from the audience,” she says. “I immediately was swept up by Hal Landon Jr. And, boy, was I excited to find out why the whole audience was wearing red scarves!”

    Seeing the show again this year, Christine found herself “blown away” by Landon and the cast and discovered that she couldn’t help but like Ebenezer Scrooge, even in his “Scroogiest” moments. Even more special, this year she watched her daughter watch the show, “sitting forward in her seat, her eyes moving from character to character, studying the stage. I’d have to say that she was enthralled.”

    Finding Confidence and New Depths in Acting Class

    Rachel talks about her acting classes—all the time. She gives a shout-out to teacher Kristina Leach, who is encouraging and makes class fun by creating and using games for the acting topic of the day.

    “She makes the things we need to learn a lot more fun, so it sticks in our heads,” Rachel says. “She tells us, ‘You’re all geniuses,’ on a regular basis and that keeps our self-esteem high, which is important to us.”

    A love of acting wasn’t new for Rachel, says her mom. But SCR’s approach to acting classes was the key: a focus on teaching acting techniques instead of simply assigning roles and lines of script.

    “Rachel finds something in her classes at SCR that's hard to define,” Christine explains. “She seems more centered and definitely more confident. But she also seems more interested in other people and more connected than she was before, and that's been helpful in all areas of her life.”

    For Rachel, SCR is summed up in one word: “Amazing.” 

    What Matters

    Christine has seen how acting classes are having an impact as Rachel learns and grows.

    “I’m most grateful for the confidence she's gained, the place she's found at SCR and the sense of both belonging and responsibility that comes with that,” she says. “And I love to see the joy and pride on her face when she's talking about her classes.”

    Rachel came to SCR to learn to act—to really learn the craft. Last month, when her class did its end-of-session demonstrations (a showcase of what they’d learned), Christine was floored to see what Rachel and the other students had learned in just that one 10-week session. Rachel has gained a lot so far—and the future looks bright.

    Winter acting classes for kids and teens start Jan. 8, 2019. Learn more about acting classes in the Theatre Conservatory and enroll.

    NOTE: Kids and teen classes are progressive: new students take classes in winter, summer and fall. Spring classes are for returning students only. Adult classes have year-round open enrollment.