BWW Interview: Channeling the Dark Side- How Hugh Panaro Is Bringing It Full Circle with SWEENEY TODD
There's a new demon barber in town...
In addition to Panaro, the cast includes: Carolee Carmello as Mrs. Lovett, the cast includes Stacie Bono (as Pirelli & Beggar Woman), Jake Boyd (as Anthony), Eryn LeCroy (as Johanna), Michael James Leslie (as Judge Turpin), John-Michael Lyles (as Tobias) and John Rapson (as The Beadle). The cast also includes Colin Anderson, David Michael Garry, Matt Leisy, Liz Pearce, Danny Rothman, Monet Sabel and Anne Tolpegin.
BroadwayWorld chatted with Panaro soon after he joined the company to chat about his exciting new role!
How's it going so far at the Barrow Street Theatre?
It's amazing. I'm joyfully exhausted. We just started last Tuesday and for that whole week that we were performing, we had our director Bill Buckhurst in from London. So we would rehearse during the day with Bill and then do the show at night. Then we had our musical director in from London, Ben Cox. So for two weeks straight now we've been doing double duty, doing rehearsal during the day and then the show at night.
Is it comforting going into a show as a replacement with a bunch of other new cast members?
We were joking that there's safety in numbers. [Laughs] I think it's very different. I've been in the situation before where I am the only new person coming in. In this case we had five new people all going in at once so there was definitely a comfort zone and camaraderie. But that said, the existing cast could not be more welcoming or gracious. I'm not just saying that to be politically correct. I don't know that I've ever worked with such a beautiful group of people in 30 years of living in New York. It's very special. Everyone knows it, so I don't think anyone takes it for granted.
What was your reaction to seeing this version of the show the first time?
I didn't really know what I was going to see. Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello are two of my oldest friends and so I went to see Norm. I sat there and I was like, "Oh my god." The first thing that really blew my mind was that it was all acoustic. I was like "Okay, I wanna do this," because nowadays everything is so synthesized and electronic out the wazoo. This is pure.
There must be people who say, "Oh, I've seen Sweeney Todd," but this version really turns it on its head. You must see that in the audience reaction...
I've already had people come up and say things like "Sweeney Todd is my favorite show, I've seen every production, I saw Patti LuPone, I saw blah blah blah... but this is my all-time favorite." My best friends came on my first night and they know Sweeney Todd backwards and forwards. They actually know Stephen Sondheim and so they came thinking they were just seeing another Sweeney Todd. They said that this production was a revelation to them and that they learned things about both the character of Sweeney and the story that they had never really thought of before.
You really get to interact with the audience and get right up in their faces. Are you enjoying getting to legitimately scare the crap out of people?
I love it! It's a little disturbing actually, because the first day that I got to work with the actual blood, I became like a twelve year old child. They had to be like "Hugh, you're using too much blood. We've never had to say that to a Sweeney before but you're enjoying the blood a little too much. Pull it back." [Laughs] I had a friend last night who I've known literally my entire life in New York, who happened to be sitting in the front row in one of the interactive, shall we say, seats. He had never seen the show and I nearly gave him a heart attack. He was joking about it after the show. Yeah, it's fun!
Has this character generally always been a dream role?
Absoultely. When I was 15 years old my mom and dad brought me to New York to see the original production of Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. My mom said, "It's part of your education to see Angela Lansbury live on the stage. She's fabulous in television, she's fabulous in film, but there is no one like her on the theatrical stage. It is part of your education." So we piled in the station wagon and came to New York to see the show. I was mesmerized and petrified at the same time. I had an aisle seat in the orchestra and during "Epiphany," I really did believe that Len Cariou was going to murder me. It really was one of those shows that was life changing. I bought the cast album, and back then it was an album, it wasn't a CD or a cassette even. I knew every word from cover to cover. At that point in my life, all I wanted to do was play Tobias. All I could think about at 15 was "I wanna play Tobias."
Well I didn't get to play Tobias... I got to play Antony at a Kennedy Center production in 2002. But I secretly coveted that song the whole time I was doing the run. It was my first time in the show itself and it was magical. It was the summer of Sondheim basically at The Kennedy Center, so it was wonderful to get notes from the composer himself and know what was behind the music. It was just an amazing experience. I remember thinking at that time, "Well, I'm Antony, I'm too old to play Tobias. I guess next is Sweeney someday!"
And that would eventually happen!
When I saw Norm do the role, I really was inspired because Norm is tall and handsome and we're the same age pretty much. I was like "Well, there's hope for me." So I called my manager and said, "I really want a chance to throw my name in the hat for this." Luckily it paid off and I love it. It's so silly but, the number 15 must have some magical reason because I saw the show when I was 15, I played Antony 15 years ago, and Sweeney Todd is in prison for 15 years before he comes back to get revenge.
Do you have a personal favorite moment during the show or does it change night to night for you?
Doing "A Little Priest" with Carolee at the end of act one is special for a couple reasons. Number one, it is one of the only moments that Sweeney has in the show to have a moment of enjoyment and a little bit of a lighter heart. It's a really dark, intense ride. The places that you go as an actor to get there are pretty dark. At the end of act one you finally get this moment of playfulness with Mrs. Lovett. I also love singing with Carolee. We've known each other for 30 years. We did the original first national tour of Les Miserables together. She went on as Cosette in Washington, D.C., so we actually played Marius and Cosette in Washington! Then of course we did Elton John's Lestat together. Then we both did the workshop of Rebecca. Here we are again. This is the fourth show that I've been in with Carolee.
On a darker side, the other favorite moment I have is the very, very, very last scene when I finally get reunited with Lucy, my wife. In the last scene, even though I've unknowingly killed her, I get to hold her in my arms and sing "The Barber and His Wife" one last time before I die. Between that and "A Little Priest," that's my yin and my yang.
Now that you're kind of getting into the groove of things, what are you looking most forward to in the rest of your run in this show?
I'm really excited, now that I've got the floor plan, so to speak. I've gotten input from the creative staff in London and our wonderful resident director here, and now I'm really ready to just start doing the actor's work and enjoy each moment. It's like when you buy a new pair of pants... the first couple time you wear them, you just have to relax into them. You wash them a couple times, and you go, "Oh now they're feeling really comfortable." I just want to live in this world, in this part, I want to terrify the people even more than I am now. That's something that just comes with the natural process of settling into the role.
Based on a Victorian horror story, Sweeney Todd is often considered Sondheim's greatest masterpiece. It first premiered on Broadway in 1979 at the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin) and went on to make its West End debut in 1980. The original Broadway production won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. The 2007 Tim Burton film adaptation earned one Academy Award and two Golden Globe Awards.
Immersing audiences in a completely new theatrical experience, this production of the classic tale of blood thirsty barber Sweeney Todd and resourceful pie shop proprietress Mrs. Lovett comes to New York City following sold-out runs in London. Tooting Arts Club first mounted this Sweeney Todd in the winter of 2014 in Harrington's Pie and Mash Shop, one of the oldest continuously operating pie shops in London, seating only 35 people at each performance. In 2015, the production made the leap to the West End where Tooting Arts Club recreated Harrington's in a 69 seat Shaftesbury Avenue venue provided by producer Cameron Mackintosh. The Harrington's shop environment has once again been brought to life for its US debut in the 130 seat Barrow Street Theatre.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus