The cast of "Sweeney Todd" at a recent rehearsal. Photo by Colleen Michele Jones

Matanzas High School's opening of 'Sweeney Todd' will honor Michelle Taylor

The cast prepares to take a bow in the memory of the 16-year-old student who was slated to perform in the musical.
By: 
Apr. 17, 2017

When he had Michelle Taylor in his acting class for the first time last fall, Matanzas High School drama teacher Richard Whelan remembers appearing surprised when the 16-year-old student told him she had never tried out for a dramatic production at the high school.

"To me, she was so talented," Whelan said in a recent interview with the Palm Coast Observer.

Taylor did go on to try out -- and receive -- a leading part in "Sweeney Todd," the MHS musical that will open to audiences Thursday, April 27. Sadly, the teen was tragically killed March 2 when she was struck by a car while walking on Lakeview Boulevard.

In her memory the 23-members of the cast of the musical which Taylor was so excited to have a part in have dedicated the show to the memory of the student, who was also very musical and an active member of the MHS Band.

"It's like we are still trying to fill the hole [of losing Michelle] when we're up on stage," said Kianna Longhway, a senior who is alternating the part of Mrs. Lovett with fellow MHS student Silvan Voege.

Performers in theater often become as tight-knit as a family when they begin to practice and rehearse performances together. But in this case, following the death of Taylor, students bound to each other even more tightly to get through the tragedy, according to senior Edward Bazzell, who plays the male lead in "Sweeney Todd."

"The cast has been so committed and hard-working, and everyone just has their eye on the prize and wants it to be the best," Bazzell said.

The production itself is an ambitious one -- the first time Matanzas High School has mounted Stephen Sondheim's macabre but whimsical "Sweeney Todd," as far as musical director Jens Oliva can recall.

"It's a dark story, but I think the music itself is what makes it so appealing to audiences and the qualities of the characters come through in the songs," Oliva said.

Whelan, who joined the faculty of MHS for the first time this year after a successful career as an actor and director in New York City, agrees.

"It's very powerful," Whelan said. "What Sondheim does brilliantly, is he creates these characters and the songs just move the story forward."

Whelan said at the show on Saturday, April 22, the cast plan to honor Michelle Taylor with a special tribute speech and also ask her family to come up on stage to be recognized.