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Spotlight on Kensington’s Sweeney Todd

By • May 25th, 2007 • Category: Interviews

Listen to Mike talk with Patricia Woolsey, director of Kensington Arts Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd, now playing through June 9th. [MP3 7:23 2.1MB].

Mike: This is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio and I’m talking with Patricia Woolsey who is directing Kensington Arts Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd. Thanks for talking with me, Patricia.

Patricia: Thank you, Michael, for having me on.

Mike: This is the second time we’ve talked with you. We talked a few months ago about Artstream and the work they were doing. So can you tell me a little bit about the storyline of Sweeney Todd?

Patricia: Sweeney Todd is about a barber who is unjustly sent away to Australia for fifteen years. He comes back to seek revenge on the two men, the judge and the beetle who sent him away. He also comes back to find out what happened to his wife. The story goes on from there. He meets Mrs. Lovetts who rents out the room that they used to live in. She tell him the story of what happens while he was away. Then there is the story about him getting revenge goes from there. It is also the story about the business that he and Mrs. Lovetts start together which is Sweeney Todd murders them and then bakes them into meat pies.

It’s quite an interesting story, but it’s really a beautiful play in a lot of ways. It really deals with a lot of the human condition. Everybody goes too far in the play and that is really the falling of all the characters. Sweeney Todd is really a sympathetic character in that he really becomes obsessed with his past and with revenge. He goes too far. But he is certainly justified in wanting revenge because his entire life is taken away from him. He’s not an inherently evil character which is what really interests me about him.

Mike: So tell me how you got involved with Kensington?

Patricia: This is actually the second show I’ve directed for Kensington Arts Theatre. I directed Into The Woods three years ago. I’ve known Craig Pettinati the Artistic Director. Several years go he asked me to direct Into the Woods. We had a really good experience working together and so they asked me to direct Sweeney Todd. He knows that it’s my favorite show. I agreed to direct it. I was very honored to direct it. We were supposed to do it last season, but it went on Broadway so we couldn’t get the rights so we pushed it back to this season.

Mike: So what are the differences between Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd? Any different challenges?

Patricia: Sweeney Todd is a much more difficult show. Sweeney Todd is definitely the most difficult show I’ve ever worked on. Technically very difficult. The music is incredibly difficult. I have an amazing musical director, thank goodness. I knew it was a difficult show. I didn’t know the extent of it until we started working on it.

Mike: What makes it difficult? I’ve only seen the video from one of the Broadway productions. I’ve never seen it live.

Patricia: It’s mostly the music and you have to have absolutely the right cast. Luckily we have the right cast. We have the most amazingly professional cast that you could get. We really lucked out on that. The music is incredibly hard. The final scene for instance. Two characters are singing in two time signatures than what the orchestra is playing. That’s just on example of how difficult the singing gets. Stephen Sondheim is the most fiendishly brilliant.

Mike: Tell me about some of the set issues with Sweeney Todd at the Kensington Theatre that they use.

Patricia: Putting a big show into a very small space like the space at Kensington has it’s challenges. Michael Nansel who plays Sweeney Todd designed our set. He knows the show so well. He’s done it several times. He’s never played Sweeney before. He designed the set. It is really an incredible design that he did. There are several scenes where there are multiple scenes going on at once.

Blocking it was a huge challenge. Michael designed the set that made it work and it is quite remarkable. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot. There is some stuff that happens in Act 2 with a chair so we had to design that. There’s a balcony scene. There are just multiple scenes. He designed these sliding panel things. There’s not very many entrances and exits at Kensington also. So the way he configured the set gave me a few extra entrances and exits as well. He just did an absolutely brilliant job on it.

Mike: Is there anything you would have done differently now that you’ve gone through the whole process on the show?

Patricia: I think we did the best we can with Kensington because of the space challenges. Because of sound and not space the orchestra has to be behind the set. Because the music is so difficult. In my ideal world we would have had an orchestra pit where the actors can see the conductor. In this version they can not see the conductor. That was a big challenge for both the orchestra and the actors.

Mike: How about the costumes for Sweeney Todd?

Patricia: I have a wonderful costumer named Eric Serbo. He was able to borrow a lot of the costumes from Washington Opera and other places. We have really gorgeous 19th century costumes. He is so talented.

Mike: Is it a big cast?

Patricia: We have 21 in the cast.

Mike: That seems like a huge number.

Patricia: It is a lot. There are nine principles and the rest are ensemble.

Mike: Have you worked with any of them before?

Patricia: Some of the actors I have worked with before. Many of the leads were new to me. We just have the most brilliant singers. Everybody is incredible.

Mike: Generally do you think it will be easier to work with someone you’ve never worked with before if it’s a big role; or is it better to work with someone you already have a relationship with?

Patricia: It’s always easier when you work with somebody you already have a relationship with. You know what their style is. You know what they’re like to work with. It always is a bit of a risk to work with somebody you haven’t worked with before. In this case it worked out, but in the past I’ve had shows where it didn’t work out and I’ve had to ask the person to leave. I’ve made casting mistakes in the past. In this show, thank goodness, no casting mistakes. Everybody got better and better.

Mike: How are ticket sales going so far?

Patricia: We had two performances last weekend for our opening weekend. We almost had a sold out house for Friday night. We had about 3/4 house on Saturday night. So far, so good. We have three more weekends left so I’m hoping it will sell well. One of the things that’s really fun about sitting in the audience last weekend. I could tell there were several people in the audience who had never seen Sweeney Todd before. There are quite a few surprises in it. It’s fun to hear people gasp and react to it. I know I had about ten people in the audience on Friday night. They had never seen it. It was a lot of fun.

Mike: How can people get tickets?

Patricia: You can go to www.katonline.org. That is the most efficient way to do it. You can order your tickets online and pay for them at the door or you can pay online through PayPal.

Mike: What dates is the show playing?

Patricia: It is this weekend through June 9th. Friday, Saturday, Sunday this coming weekend. The next two weekends and the final weekend it is June 7th, 8th, and 9th. There is a Thursday performance the final week. It is a mature theme so I think it’s for people to decide for themselves, but I would say to be conservative not under sixteen years old.

Mike: Well very good. Thank you very much for talking with us today.

Patricia: Thank you very much Michael for having me on.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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