Dallas — If you’re a musical theater actor with a bass-baritone voice and in a certain age range, then the role you dream about is the title character in Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
That’s the case with Brian Mathis, known in these parts for his booming voice and intimidating physical size. He’s played Sweeney before, but that was in college. Now, in his late ‘40s, he’s perfect for the role, and gets to play it on a large stage, at Dallas City Performance Hall, in a concert staging co-produced by Uptown Players and the Turtle Creek Chorale. It opens tonight, with three more performances on Friday and Saturday (including a matinee on Saturday). It'll be the second such collaboration for these group's, following last year's hit concert staging of Ragtime.
He plays opposite Jenny Thurman as Ms. Lovett, the like-minded sicko who bakes the demon barber’s victims into meat pies, revitalizing her shoppe. The cast also features John Campione as Anthony, Kristen Lassiter as Joanna, Tom DeWester as Judge Turpin, Jay Gardner as Beadle Bamford, Susan Riley as the Beggar Woman, Peter DiCesare as Pirelli and Jacob Barnes as Tobias. Michael Serrecchia directs, and the TCC's Trey Jacobs is the music director.
TheaterJones talked to Mathis about the role and the musical.
TheaterJones: You’ve played Sweeney Todd before, right?
Brian Mathis: Yes, but a long time ago [in college]. This is the fourth time I’ve been in the show, the other two times I played Fogg and Ensemble.
This is a concert version, so tell us what that means with the Turtle Creek Chorale as your chorus.
This is pretty different in that we have 100-plus voices. This is the second concert version I’ve done. This one has some staging, some costuming and we’re calling it “rock star lighting,” which is pretty cool. They sing all of the choral parts, and we have an auxiliary cast playing some smaller roles and doing chorus singing on top of that. They had to audition to cast a women’s chorus, too.
Did you think much about how you’d play Sweeney again if you ever got the chance?
Yes. It’s probably one of my favorite shows. It’s the music and the dialogue I’m extremely familiar with, because it is so dear to me. When you do things in college and haven’t had any life experience to bring to the role, you might have a modicum of a good voice but you’re certainly ready for a role like this.
When I did it in college, my directors were good friends with George Hearn, who had played the role on Broadway and in a televised version for PBS [Sweeney Todd Live at the New York Philharmonic]. We got ready to open the show and I was standing in the office, and the phone rang, and they passed the phone to me and said “it’s George Hearn, he wants you talk to you.”
[Click the play button below to hear Mathis describe what he heard; this will also give you a hint of Mathis' voice.]
I’ve kind of carried that with me. I’ve never gotten to actually meet him, though.
It’s one of those parts that I’d love to play it again after this one. It’s almost like an opera role, you get a certain role into your body and it’s there and you can recall it. And you keep developing and getting better and bringing something fresh to the role.
And of course everything can change depending on your cast. Jenny Thurman plays Ms. Lovett, what has your dynamic been like in rehearsals?
Jenny, she’s terrific. I’ve had a great time working with her. She takes her voice very seriously, and has a really great time. She’s wonderful to work opposite of. She’s very giving and open for discussion and trying to make it work as best as possible for everyone involved.
What are Todd’s feelings toward her?
He feels nothing for her. I think she’s a tool for all of his plans. She’s a middleman to get to something else.
I bet you guys have a ball with the song “A Little Priest.”
Jenny has done a good job of bringing freshness to that, she’s made it even more humorous.
To paraphrase the line about actors in that song, you can bet it won't arrive overdone.
Here's a video preview: