Feb 20 2013 2:00pm
Sweeney Todd is a musical about cannibalism. More specifically, it’s a musical about a barber named Benjamin Barker, alias Sweeney Todd, who kills his customers and gives the bodies to his landlady, Mrs. Lovett, so she can turn them into meat pies and serve them to people. There’s a lot more to it than that—love and obsession and revenge, everything you’d expect to find in a good musical—but for most people, cannibalism is the show’s biggest selling point.
For me, though, it was all about the music. Nothing in the entire universe made me happier than sinking my teeth into a really juicy song and performing it for anyone willing to listen—and of all the musicals I’ve ever loved, Sweeney Todd was the ultimate source for juicy songs. Especially if you were playing Mrs. Lovett, which was exactly what I planned to do.
A week after the auditions, Miss Delisio announced that she’d made her casting decisions and the list would be up at the end of the day. So when the last bell rang, I raced out of my last class and up to the theater. There was already a throng of drama club door. A piece of light green paper was there, held up with Scotch tape.
I started pushing my way through the crowd, but a hand on my shoulder stopped me before I could get very far. “Congrats, girl!” said Naomi, pulling me into a quick hug. “You got a lead. Told you so, didn’t I?”
Naomi had never been interested in acting, but she’d stagemanaged our shows ever since freshman year. She was a natural at it, too: level-headed, loud, and popular enough that people actually listened when she told them to do things.
“Really?” I said, returning her grin. “Wait, don’t tell me. I want to see for myself.”
Call it superstition, but even in a case like this, where I knew beyond a doubt what part I’d gotten, I had to see it in writing before I let it become real. Margaret McKenna—Mrs. Lovett. Ever since Miss Delisio had announced that Sweeney Todd would be our spring musical, I’d pictured those words in my head, willing them to come true.
I skirted around Naomi and wove through a bunch of guys high-fiving each other, until finally I reached the cast list. It only took a few seconds for me to zero in on my name, about halfway down the green paper. I followed the line that would lead me to the name of my character.
Margaret McKenna—Tobias Ragg.
The chatter around me dissolved into white noise, and I blinked a couple times, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. I traced the line with my finger. No, I’d really been cast asTobias Ragg.Toby, who only had a couple of songs.Toby, who was young and simple-minded, the exact opposite of the devious and amazing Mrs. Lovett, who I was certain I’d get to be.
Toby, who was a boy.
I mean, sure, I was short and kind of flat-chested, but come on. . . .
“I’m Toby,” I said to myself, trying the idea on for size. It didn’t fit.
“Yeah,” came Naomi’s voice from just over my shoulder. Apparently she’d followed me through the crowd. I turned to her, and her congratulatory smile faltered when she saw my face. “Listen, I know you wanted Mrs. Lovett, but Toby’s still a really good part.You’ll be so awesome.”
But her consolation-prize words washed over me, totally devoid of meaning. “Who is playing Lovett?” I asked. I hadn’t even thought to check. “Wait. Don’t tell me.”
So she didn’t. She just bit her lip and waited for me to find the name. Find it I did. Recognize it, I did not.
“Who the hell is Victoria Willoughbee?”
Naomi went quiet for a moment, her face frozen in an expression that I couldn’t read. “You know Vicky,” she said at last. “Sophomore? Plays clarinet in the band?” Nothing rang a bell, so I just shook my head. Naomi shrugged. “Well, she’s nice.”
“Woo-hoo!” came a shout, so close it made me flinch. Just behind me was Simon Lee, looking over my head at the cast list. “I’m Sweeney Effing Todd, suckers! I am the Asian Johnny Depp! I’ve always said that! Haven’t I? Haven’t I always said that?”
He punched the air, and a few people yelled out their congratulations and gave him those back-thumping man-hugs. Nobody seemed to begrudge him the lead role, or even the bizarre victory dance he was now doing. Mostly because we all knew he was the most talented boy in the entire school. Not to mention the cutest.
Simon found me in the crowd and gave me one of those lopsided grins that made my chest feel like a tiny hot-air balloon. That was when it hit me.
I wouldn’t get to be Simon’s costar.
Suddenly, I was absolutely certain I was about to lose it. I had to get out of there. I couldn’t let all these people see me cry over a part in a high school musical. Especially not Simon.
“Congratulations,” I managed to choke out, and ran like hell toward the girls’ bathroom.
I didn’t even see the boy coming around the corner until I bumped right into him. My shoulder smacked into his arm with a force that nearly spun me off my feet.
“Sorry!” he said automatically, stepping gingerly out of my way as I looked up in alarm to see who it was. I didn’t know him.
But his eyes widened as he looked down at me. “Margo,” he said. “Oh. I’m really, really sorry.”
I gave him a quick once-over—dark hair, light eyes, thin and wiry, cute enough in a nondescript sort of way—but no, I definitely didn’t know him. “Sorry about what? Who are you?”
“Nobody,” he said quickly, holding his hands up like a white flag. “I’m nobody. Never mind.”
I darted past him. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him turn to watch me go.
The bathroom smelled faintly of weed and cigarettes, and the powers that be had long since stopped scrubbing away the rude graffiti that covered the walls, but at least it was empty. Feeling about nine years old, I locked myself in a stall, drew my knees up to my chin, and shut my eyes.
Miss Delisio always gave the lead roles to seniors. That was how it worked. You paid your underclassman dues in the chorus, or maybe in small roles if you were lucky, and then you got a good part right before you graduated. So why were the rules different for that Vicky Willoughbee girl?
I only allowed myself out of the stall when I’d calmed down enough to form a new plan of action. If I couldn’t be Mrs. Lovett, then I would be the sort of person who was totally okay with not being Mrs. Lovett. I smiled at myself in the bathroom mirror until it looked real, and then I took a deep breath and headed back toward the theater for the first rehearsal.
Miss Delisio was already sitting primly on the stage when I came in. In addition to being my tenth-grade trig teacher, she’d directed every musical I’d been in since freshman year. I liked her well enough—but sitting next to her, wearing tight jeans, clunky boots, and a black biker jacket, was the real talent: George the Music Ninja.
Even when George was just noodling around on the piano during breaks, it was like listening to some crazy musical genius at work.And that wasn’t even counting his other job.When he wasn’t musical-directing us, he was the front man of an indie band called Apocalypse Later. He didn’t write their music, which probably explained why I wasn’t totally sold on their sound, but his vocals and guitar solos were absolutely killer.
“Grab your script and have a seat,” Miss Delisio announced in her usual buoyant voice. “We’ll start as soon as everyone’s here.”
One by one, we made our way up to the stage, where there was a pile of scripts, each labeled with the name of an actor and the role they were playing. I watched Miss Delisio closely as I approached, wondering if she would say anything to me. She knew I wanted to be Mrs. Lovett. In fact, last time I spoke to her, she’d stopped just short of outright promising me the role. Would she bother to explain why she’d given it to someone else?
Apparently not. By the time I reached the stage and fished my script from the pile, she and George were engrossed in conversation. I took a deep breath. It didn’t matter, I reminded myself. What’s done is done. I was okay with it. No, I was more than okay; I was going to kick ass in this role.
Most of the actors with leads had settled in the front row: Callie Zumsky as Johanna, MaLinda Jones as Pirelli, Dan Quimby-Sato as Anthony, Ryan Weiss as Judge Turpin, Jill Spalding as the Beggar Woman. All seniors, of course. But I joined Naomi in the second row instead.
“You okay, McKenna?” whispered Naomi as I sat down beside her.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I whispered back. “Just because Sophomore McWhatserface got Lovett and I didn’t?”
Naomi snickered. “You mean Willoughbee,” she said, trying and failing to sound disapproving.
I grinned. “That’s what I said. Anyway, whatever. I’m over it.”
“You don’t look over it.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Perhaps your eyes deceive you.”
She looked like she wanted to press the issue, but I was saved by the arrival of Simon, who slid into the empty seat on my other side. “Heya, Toby,” he said, grinning.
There was something witty I could say in response to that. I was sure of it. Unfortunately, the best my brain could cough up was: “Actually, it’s Margo.”
He feigned shock and slapped his forehead with his palm. “Duh. I’m always doing that. Calling people Toby. When will I ever learn?”
Something witty. Something witty. I needed to think of something witty.
But his arm kept brushing against mine as he arranged his stuff on the floor, and that was enough to distract me. I was just about to give up on being witty and blurt out something inane like “Never, I guess,” when Miss Delisio began to shush us.
“We’ve got almost everyone,” she said, frowning down at the scripts beside her. “We’re just missing Vicky—oh, there she is!” Her gaze shifted to the back of the auditorium, and everyone twisted around to see who she was looking at. There, at the top of the left aisle, was a girl I was pretty sure I’d never seen before. Clutching a small pile of books to her chest, she hesitated there like she’d been caught in the act of . . . what?
Walking into a room? This was the girl who’d been cast in the role of a lifetime?
“Here you go,” said Miss Delisio, holding out a script. Hugging her books closer, Vicky darted down the aisle to collect it. Miss Delisio, beaming, said something I couldn’t hear, and Vicky gave her a tight smile in return. Miss Delisio gestured to the front row.
But the front row had already filled up.Vicky hesitated again, and for one relieved moment I was sure she would head toward the back, with the other underclassmen.
Then Simon waved at her. “Saved you a seat over here!” he called, much to my dismay. Vicky slid into the seat on Simon’s other side as he gave her his trademark arched-eyebrow smile.
The one that made my heart beat just a little faster when he used it on me.The one that, last spring, had led to an incredibly awesome kiss at the cast party of Bat Boy: The Musical. The kiss had never been repeated. In fact, after that night he’d never even brought it up again. But still: awesome.
Vicky, however, seemed oblivious to his flirty look.
“Margo, right?” she whispered to me, across Simon.
“I saw you as Ruthie in Bat Boy last year.You were really good.”
“Thanks,” I said, and smiled at her, exactly like I’d practiced in the bathroom mirror. I was okay with this. I was not allowed to hate Vicky Willoughbee.
Once we were settled, Miss Delisio introduced George, like there was anyone here who didn’t know him. He flashed us a grin and settled himself at the piano. We wouldn’t be singing today, since we hadn’t officially learned the songs yet, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t underscore us. He began to play the opening bars of the show, and a little shiver flitted up my spine.
With Naomi reading stage directions, we jumped right in. As usual, speaking the lyrics was odd since, without rhythms and melody, lyrics just sound like really weird poetry. But this was the way the first rehearsal always went: just a read-through, so we could all learn the story together. Most of us were used to it. Some people, like Simon, even managed to make it sound kind of good.
Vicky, however, was no Simon. She read all of her lyrics in an awful monotone, like she couldn’t quite figure out what the words meant. And it wasn’t just the lyrics, either. The way she read the dialogue was just as bad. It was all I could do not to cover my ears and run screaming out of the theater.
When we finally reached the end of Act One, Miss Delisio called a ten-minute break. I thought about going outside, but when Vicky got up, I decided to stay right where I was. Running into her in the hallway and accidentally punching her in the face were definitely not part of my I’m-okay-with-this plan.
As I skimmed the second half of the script, I saw a student approach Miss Delisio. A student who wasn’t in the cast, which was a little unusual. It took me a minute, but I recognized him as the boy from earlier. The one I’d almost mowed down on my way to the bathroom.
He spoke with Miss Delisio and George for a few moments before digging through the pockets of the hoodie he wore, then through the backpack he’d slung over one shoulder. He pulled out what looked like a camera case. I heard the word yearbook come out of someone’s mouth, and I groaned softly as I realized what was going on. They were starting rehearsal photo shoots this early in the game? Not fair.
When the cast had settled back in their seats and quieted, Miss Delisio took a moment to confirm my fears.
“Guys, this is Oliver Parish.” The boy gave a shy little wave to nobody in particular. “He just transferred here in January. He’s going to be photographing our rehearsal process for the drama
club’s section of the yearbook. And maybe, if we’re lucky, he’ll get enough to put together a slide show for our cast party.”
Naomi nudged me and rolled her eyes, which made me grin. I looked at Simon, to see what he thought of this turn of events, but he was busy typing out a text message on his phone. Beside him, though, Vicky was watching Oliver. And she wasn’t wearing that timid, deer-in-the-headlights expression from before. She was absolutely beaming.
I looked at the photographer. He smiled back at Vicky, like there was a secret in the room, and they were the only two people who knew it.
The porch lights were already on when I got home that night, and my mom’s car sat ominously in the driveway. And the house, as I’d feared, was a mess. There were coats draped over the back of the couch, shoes strewn all around the floor, and four suitcases in the hallway, one of which was open and spilling clothes everywhere. I tried not to think about how I’d cleaned this room just three days ago.
Ziggy was the first to greet me when I opened the door, jumping off her perch on the couch and rubbing herself against my legs. She purred as I bent to scritch her little tabby head. “Did Mommy and Daddy come home?” I whispered to her. “Did they remember to feed you?”
“Margo?” came Mom’s voice from the kitchen. “Honey, is that you?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s a burglar. I’ve come to steal all your silverware and jewelry. And your cat,” I added, giving Ziggy another scratch.
“As long as you don’t steal our daughter,” she replied. Emerging from the kitchen with a huge grin on her face and Dad trailing behind her, she gave me a quick hug and a peck on the forehead.
“How was the cruise?” I asked, unzipping my boots and placing them neatly on the shoe rack by the door. I’d deal with my parents’ shoes later.
She sighed dramatically. “Absolute heaven. Maybe even better than the last one. I know they say you should wait for summer to visit Alaska, but what’s a little cold?”
“Cold schmold,” added Dad. “That’s what the parkas were for. Not to mention the indoor cabin.”
Mom gave him a secretive little smile. “The honeymoon suite, you mean.”
“Honeymoon suite, still?” I asked, doing my best to ignore the dewy-eyed looks they were exchanging. “What is this, the third honeymoon you’ve been on since the wedding?”
Mom thought for a moment. “Fourth, if you count the Grand Canyon trip.”
“Which I do,” said Dad. “Oh, and we have pictures!” He ran over to the open suitcase and began rifling through it. “Wait till you see these, Margo. Some of the ones your mother took are just, wow.”
Ever since the wedding last May, our lives had been one continuous cycle of Mom and Dad planning a trip, Mom and Dad leaving on their trip, a week or two of peace and quiet, Mom and Dad coming back from their trip, and the grand finale, Mom and Dad showing me pictures of their trip.The pictures were always the same, too: Mom pretending to fall over the railing of a cruise ship, Dad wearing another cheesy Hawaiian shirt, stuff like that. Sometimes it felt like they were the teenagers and I was the adult.
“How’s school?” asked Mom. “Anything exciting happen while we were gone?”
“Nope,” I said quickly. “Same old same old.”
I thought about telling her about the cast list fiasco, but this wasn’t the time. At best, they’d both go “Aw, that’s too bad” and jump right back into honeymoon talk. At worst, they wouldn’t even understand why I was so upset. As far as they were concerned, it didn’t matter what role I had, as long as their daughter was onstage. These were, after all, the people who’d thrown me a party after I’d played Frightened Theater-goer Number Two in my first-grade musical about Abraham Lincoln.
“Where did I put that camera?” muttered Dad.
“Red suitcase, inside pocket, next to the toothbrushes,” replied Mom almost absently, and then turned back to me. “You’ll never guess what movie was playing on the plane today. The Parent Trap. Can you believe it?”
“Oh, I almost forgot about that!” said Dad, unzipping the red suitcase.
“It was the old Hayley Mills one,” said Mom. “The good one, not the remake they did with that awful drug addict girl.”
I was about to point out that Lindsay Lohan probably hadn’t been a drug addict at the time, but Mom continued, “And we said, take away the twin thing and the summer camp, and that’s our Margo! Making us back into one big, happy family.”
“It wasn’t exactly me,” I said, but neither of them seemed to notice.
“Aw, Celia,” said Dad. Camera finally in hand, he came back over and enveloped us in a bear hug. Mom hugged back just as hard, so I did too.
If I’d been a character in a musical, this would have been the point where the lights went down on my parents, leaving them slow-dancing in the background like living scenery, as I stepped forward into a lone spotlight for my big solo. It would be a quirky ballad, probably called “I Am Not Hayley Mills” or something like that, and people would applaud when I was done. Maybe they’d even give me a standing ovation.
Of course, people don’t usually get standing ovations in their living rooms, but I still toyed with the idea of dashing upstairs, pulling out my guitar, and writing that song. It wasn’t worth it, though. I’d tried a million different times to write a million different songs about a million different things, but it was never worth it. My songs always sucked.