October 1, 2014  

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"Sweeney Todd" Crew Receives Surprise from Play’s Author

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Letter from Stephen Sondheim to the Southern Miss School of Music.

After the catastrophe surrounding The University of Southern Mississippi School of Music’s production of “Sweeney Todd,” Dr. Mike Lopinto mailed a letter to the play’s author, Stephen Sondheim, describing the story of the cast’s misfortune while working on the musical.

Lopinto had heard that Sondheim often answered fan mail, so he decided to write the Tony Award winner about all the cast had endured in trying to stage the performance. Not only did Sondheim reply he donated $500 to the School of Music.

“After two months, I did not expect a reply and was completely shocked he responded. When I saw the check, I was completely awestruck,” said Lopinto, PR/marketing and event coordinator for the School of Music.

As the cast and crew rehearsed on Feb.10, an F-4 tornado ripped through Hattiesburg and a portion of the Southern Miss campus. The group rushed to the basement of the Mannoni Performing Arts Center as the storm tore through buildings on campus, including the MPAC. The performers lost their elaborate set and the center was in no condition to house the performance.  

When the cast was called together afterward for a counseling session, most assumed that the production would not happen. Lopinto announced that they would still perform, but in a different venue -- the Saenger Theatre in downtown Hattiesburg. The production had to be restaged and re-choreographed, along with a new stage plan and new lighting.

But the show did indeed go on – March 6-7 – just one week after its original dates.

“So many wonderful people have done so many wonderful things for the School of Music during our time of crisis. I am grateful for them all, fame or not,” said Lopinto. “However, to have an iconic figure in musical theatre not only write us, but also donate to help, was beyond my wildest dreams.”

The proceeds from the performances were donated to the University’s tornado relief fund.