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You can tell when Halloween is approaching. The theater companies start hauling (howling?) out those perennial favorites about Dracula and Frankenstein or things that go bump in the night. Starting this week in Utah County, the Utah Opera Company will be presenting "an alternative to haunted houses" for adults - Stephen Sondheim's nearly operatic "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," while in the northern end of the state, the Heritage Theater near Brigham City is staging "The Curse of Frankenstein."

City Rep, however, is playing it safe with a pleasant "Evening With Rodgers & Hammerstein," billed as a theatrical concert.(BU) STEPHEN SONDHEIM was on the cutting edge of musical theater when he composed the music and wrote the lyrics for a show you'll never see on the dinner-theater circuit.

"Sweeney Todd," which gives new meaning to the phrase "mystery meat," has a basically unsavory plot line - about an 1850s barber who settles scores by giving gentlemen their last haircut, then dispatches them to the bakery one floor below, where the neighborly Mrs. Lovett utilizes his customers as ingredients in "The Worst Pies in London."

The Tony Award-winning musical takes a Dickensian view of repression and revenge in the dreary back streets of London. Even Utah Opera's staging is guaranteed to add a dark touch. Instead of a regular auditorium for the production, the old Classic Steel warehouse right in the middle of a railroad switching yard in the southeast part of Provo has been turned into a makeshift theater. The bare brick walls and open iron gridwork ceiling recreate the stark Industrial Revolution setting that was designed for the original Broadway production 10 years ago.

The book for "Sweeney Todd" was written by Hugh Wheeler from an adaptation by Christopher Bond.

Director Neil Vanderpool's cast includes Lynden R. Noe of Salt Lake City as Sweeney Todd and Angela Drahos of Provo as Mrs. Lovett; with Kellie M. Hoover, Murray, as the beggar woman; Leslie McRae, Provo, as Johanna; and Geoffrey Huntington, Orem, as Anthony.

Noe has nearly 20 years of college, community and semi-professional theater experience, including portraying Rev. Byrd, the Irish preacher, in the first off-Broadway cast of "Shenandoah."

Rory R. Scanlon, a costume designer at Brigham Young University and at the Playmill Theatre in West Yellowstone for the past nine years, has designed the costumes for "Sweeney Todd." Also assisting Vanderpool are Roger Nelson, set designer; Merrilee Webb-Moran, vocal director; John Moran, lighting; and Michael Babbit, orchestra director.

"Sweeney Todd" opens Saturday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. and continues Monday, Oct. 23; Friday, Oct. 27; Saturday, Oct. 28; Monday, October 30; Tuesday, Oct. 31; and Thursday, Nov. 2, through Saturday, Nov. 4. All seats are $5 each and tickets can be purchased at the Center Stage box office or Murdock Travel in the Seven Peaks Excelsior Hotel in Provo or at Copies Plus in Sringville. Call 489-4648 for telephone reservations.

The warehouse "theater" is located at 508 E. 900 South. Take 900 South off University Avenue, then follow the signs.

(Maybe we're talking "pie in the sky," but someday I'd like to see a children's theater version of "Sweeney Todd" - just to see how those little shavers interpret it.)

(BU) "AN EVENING WITH RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN," a concert-style production showcasing some of the best-loved classics of American theater, will be presented for six performances by City Rep in its downstairs Court Theater stage (Utah Theater building, 148 S. Main), between Oct. 20 and Nov. 18.

The City Rep ensemble, featuring Cliff Cole, Margo Watson, Jennifer O'Haley, James Dale and Grant Hurst, will perform numbers from "The King and I," "South Pacific," "Carousel," "The Sound of Music," "Oklahoma!" and `Cinderella."

The concert will also include a variety of songs written by Rodgers with other lyricists, including "It's a Grand Night for Singing," "There's a Small Hotel" and "My Funny Valentine," and a medley of Hammerstein songs from "Show Boat."

The City Rep Concert Orchestra will also perform Rodgers' orchestral piece, "Victory at Sea."

Other members of the City Rep ensemble are David Jewkes, Ann Rasmussen, Nanette Garrett, Holly Healy, Bryon Finch and Ron Jewett.

The show is being directed by Joanne M. Parker, with choreography by Marilyn Montgomery. Jennifer O'Haley is vocal director and Richard Chatelain is music director and conductor.

Performance dates are Friday, Oct. 20; Friday, Oct. 27; Saturday, Nov. 4; Friday, Nov. 10; Monday, Nov. 13; and Saturday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for children. They're available at the City Rep box office or by calling 532-6000. Season tickets for City Rep's 1989-90 Court Theatre season also are still available.

-"THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN" will be hovering over the Heritage Theatre, 2505 S. Highway 89 in Perry, from Oct. 20 through Nov. 11. Performances are scheduled on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.

For reservations, call 723-8392 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily, except Sunday.