Blood and Glory

January 31, 2009
Something's amiss: Tilted London skyline serves as menacing backdrop for Sweeney Todd.

Something's amiss: Tilted London skyline serves as menacing backdrop for Sweeney Todd.


For theater-studies professor John Clum, it was now or never to see one of his dreams come true. "The theater-studies department had been talking for years about working with the student musical organization Hoof 'n' Horn, and finally it's happening," said Clum, as he prepared to direct Sweeney Todd, his sixty-fifth Duke production and swan song before a pre-retirement leave.

Hoof 'n' Horn, a Duke institution for seventy-two years, enjoyed the rare opportunity to collaborate with Clum and many other professionals in the joint production with theater studies, which ran in October and November.

The colorful set with the tilted London skyline was by Jayme Mellema, visiting lecturer in design, and the Victorian costumes with the futuristic edge were by guest designer Chris Mueller. Fight direction was by Jeff A.R. Jones, who was also instrumental in designing the "blood effects"—an integral element in Sweeney Todd.

Leonard Cruz, visiting professor in the dance department, choreographed the show, and George Lam, a Ph.D. candidate in the music department, was musical director, with his group, the Duke New Music Ensemble, in the pit.

And because Sweeney Todd is the killer- thriller story about a barber who did away with his customers with a flick of the razor (and then had his lover serve up their remains in tasty meat pies), longtime Duke barber Dave Fowler was enlisted to teach the subtleties of wielding a straight razor.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the score is famously complex and difficult, but Clum and Lam were confident they had found the students with the chops to pull off Sweeney Todd. More than 3,000 students and community members saw the show during its run.

Because this was Clum's last production and his last semester on the campus he has served for forty-three years, his colleagues took the opportunity to celebrate both his career and his production with him.

An early-November program featured songs, dances, and scenes from plays. Among the offerings were Reynolds Price '55 and a student reading from The History Boys; students performing scenes from King Lear, Twelfth Night, and A Streetcar Named Desire; and a staff member singing "I Will Always Love You" by one of Clum's favorite artists, Dolly Parton.