Jan Chambers’ setting is nearly the star of the show.
-The News & Observer
The Ensemble of Sweeney Todd filling Jan Chambers’ set, photo by Curtis Brown.
There’s no place like London, but Jan Chambers‘ masterful design for Sweeney Todd undoubtedly pulls us right into the heart of Fleet Street. The set is expansive and multi-tiered, featuring everything from revolving rooms to trap doors. Layered upon the realism of some of the settings are images of gears and bars, evoking the greater context of the industrial and capitalist London that surrounds the story. “There is so much Sweeney Todd has to do, be and say,” explains Jan. “I’m usually more minimalist, but this is where the show wanted to go.”
While the end result of Jan’s work is huge in scope, she approached the show in its initial stages much like she does any other show she designs. “I typically start collecting images before even talking to the director,” she shares. “I work intuitively, beginning with texture, color and light. I immerse myself in the world of the play before making any real decisions.” Once she started collaborating with director Jen Wineman, the path the design would take became more clear. Both of them had independently honed in on similar industrial images of the period. Tying those ideas with the styles and palettes of costume designer Bill Brewer and lighting designer Charlie Morrison, “This Sweeney became quirkier in color and texture than most,” she recognizes.
Annie Golden and David St. Louis, photo by Curtis Brown
Once this world came fully into focus, the specifics of the design of the show began to take shape. “I look at the action and requirements of the play and how those happen in that world. How the movement happens designs the space for me.” There is certainly a lot that has to happen, and all of those elements began to dictate the size and complexity of the set. “I didn’t realize how big this show is,” Jan admits. “There are so many intricacies and such high demands for timing. Many assets, like the trap, are important to keep the timing.”
David St. Louis, Brian Owen and Annie Golden, photo by Curtis Brown.
Jan’s design from concept, to model, to reality. Photo by Curtis Brown.
All of this, in the end, is to serve the production itself. It is evident in the care Jan takes in every detail how she feels about the show.
What I love best about this show is the music. It’s interesting, because I’m not a musician. I don’t always get Sondheim, but I really love this music. It is absolutely integral in a way music often isn’t. It gets you in the gut from the get-go.