Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
University of South Dakota
Another bucket list role, I was honored to be presented with the opportunity to perform as a guest artist with my students at USD in the title role of this iconic work. I began researching the great artists that have played the role like George Hearn, Len Cariou, Michael Cerveris, and Ben Kingsley, and simultaneously researched London during the era of the play. I also read several books on the character and history of Sweeney Todd, which is signifcantly older than I had expected. There is a gothic, penny-dreadful element to the story and the character, and like Sondheim when he originally wrote the musical, I wanted to be true to that in my portrayal of Sweeney. At the same time, Sweeney feels justified and righteous in his actions, as a result of the loss of his loved ones.
In early explorations with dialects through Lessac potency and radiancy, I found a physical and emotional center for Sweeney, which through rehearsal with director Chaya Gordon-Bland, I was able to fine tune. The music is complex and difficult, and since we were using pre-recorded orchestrations, it limited the amount of musical phrasing and expression that the score truly deserves. However, this did drive me to listen more deeply to the orchestration in order to pull my cues out, which was further complicated by the fact that we performed this near-opera without a conductor. I found that vocally, this role is more demanding than perhaps any other I’ve performed. It is at one extreme very lyric and romantic as in “My Friends,” and other times raging and aggressive, as in “Epiphany.” It challenged me to practice what I preach in the studio, and I became a better voice teacher as a result. I hope I have another crack at this role down the road!
Photos by Raimondo Genna. Used with permission.
Scenic Design by Gabriel Gomez; Lighting Design by Anthony Pellecchia Costume Design by Tiffany Lent