Tuesday 5(+1): SWEENEY TODD's Weslie Webster and Lauren Marshall
Jason Ross and Weslie Webster lend their starpower as Cumberland County Playhouse continues the run of its latest musical offering: the challenging, stimulating, macabre tale of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which opened last week on the mainstage and running through October 26. The Tony Award-winning musical, which features an iconic Stephen Sondheim score, is directed by Bryce McDonald, with musical direction by Ron Murphy and choreography by Ashley Gentry.
"I'm so thrilled that we have the chance to perform this classic musical thriller for our guests," says McDonald. "It's the perfect mixture of classic thriller elements to leave you on the edge of your seat, liberally spiced with charismatic wit and complemented by a remarkable score. Sweeney Todd may be one of our most deliciously spooky offerings yet."
Managing to find time amid a typically busy week in Crossville, actors Weslie Webster and Lauren Marshall - who play Mrs. Lovett and the neighborhood beggar woman, respectively - graciously agreed to submit to The Tuesday 5(+1) and to answer our questions with enough candor and intrigue to ensure audiences come see their show!
Here's your chance to get to know two of the Playhouse's favorite actors even better than you may have thought before:
Weslie Webster (Mrs. Lovett)
What was your first "live, onstage" taste of theater? The first show I was ever in was The Jungle Book when I was in the fifth grade. We performed in our elementary school gym and I played one of the vultures!
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? I like to sit in my dressing room for a half hour or so before anyone else gets there and watch documentaries as I pin curl my hair.
What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? Once when I was performing M'Lynn in Steel Magnolias, the woman playing Clairee lost her skirt in the final scene. It just fell down around her ankles...she hiked it back up, we laughed a lot along with the audience, and we finished the show. She was a real trooper that day!
What's your dream role? Barbara Fordham or Violet Weston in August: Osage County.
Who's your theatrical crush? Britt Hancock...always and forever.
Why should people come Sweeney Todd? It's thrilling! It will put you in the mood for all of your fall and HALLOWEEN festivities! It is just a great, powerful tale about good food, sweet revenge and people getting their "just desserts".
Lauren Marshall (Beggar Woman)
What was your first "live, onstage" taste of theater? I grew up with theatre in my blood. My parents are/were both theatre professors at a private university in the town where I grew up. My father ("Doc") had a PhD in theatre history and was a great director, researcher, mentor, and teacher. My mother is a phenomenal actress, can coach you on any public speaking event from anywhere between a monologue to an uncomfortable break up in a Starbucks, and is currently department head and division chair for her department at Kansas Wesleyan University. When I was a kid, I would always tag along to rehearsals with my parents. At that point, they were the chief cooks and bottle washers of the KWU theatre department. If I'm remembering correctly, they had put together a small skit about Long John Silver for a summer festival, and the students and my parents graciously let me be a three-year-old pirate amongst the college kids. I was so excited to be in a play and have a plastic sword I interrupted the scripted dialogue with, "Give us all your treasure!!" It was not time for the other pirates to give us their treasure.
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? It really is show-to-show specific for me. When I was Aldonza in Man of La Mancha, for example, I got to the theatre an hour and a half before curtain, and would warm up for a half hour, do my makeup, warm up again, and get dressed. For Mother Superior in Sister Act, I had to warm up IN costume, so I needed to be dressed with enough time to pace around and sing my songs with my wimple on. For Legally Blonde, I could sing in my car on the way in, roll up with anywhere between 60-30 minutes to curtain, and feel very comfortable. With that being said, I am superstitious and a creature of habit. If I establish a ritual for a show, I have to do it every performance.
What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? Believe it or not, this Kansas girl has experienced more shows being held and evacuated for tornados here in Tennessee than I ever did in Dorothy's stomping grounds. But most memorable would probably have to go to my participation in the Smoke on the Mountain franchise for all of these years. We've experienced everything...crying children, church choir soloists, people vomiting in the audience, patrons who cross the stage to leave the theatre or an entire bus load of people who arrive 45 minutes late and have to walk on the stage to get to their seats...I could go on and on. But my first year at CCP, we were running Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, and at the same point in Dennis' (Daniel Black's) monologue, we had to hold the show at least four times in a single month. It was a fall, or a heart attack, or a tornado...it was terrifying. And then we had to come back on and try and get the audience to get back onboard with a monologue...about death. Right before intermission. Yikes.
What's your dream role? I am actually really lucky. I've played so many dream roles already! Roles I've wanted and roles I didn't know I've wanted until I had them...Charlotte in A Little Night Music was a big one for me. Aldonza was huge. I think maybe Rose in Gypsy and (surprise) Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney are goals. Lady Macbeth. Nurse Ratched. And if anyone just wants to pay me to sing "Omar Sharif" from The Band's Visit, it'll be weird but I will happily oblige.
Who's your theatrical crush? Audra always. I'm kinda hot on Emma Thompson right now. Oh...I feel like a traitor saying this but, Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond. Our dressing room gets hype to "I give you sexy corn!!"
Why should people come Sweeney Todd? It's a masterpiece. The music is so intricate and interesting and makes you feel uneasy. It's beautifully gory and gothic and it's the perfect show to lead up to Halloween. If you like a good pathos creep out, this show is for you!
About Sweeney Todd at Cumberland County Playhouse
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a cutthroat tale of retribution, opened on the Mainstage of Cumberland County Playhouse Friday, September 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Sweeney Todd (Jason Ross, Boeing Boeing), formerly known as barber Benjamin Barker, was convicted on false charges and exiled to Australia by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Britt Hancock, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and his assistant Beadle Bamford (Brett Mutter, A Sanders Family Christmas). Fifteen years later, after being rescued at sea by the young sailor Anthony Hope (Blake Graham, Sleepy Hollow), Todd has returned to London hoping to be reunited with his wife and daughter. But when he arrives at his former home - now owned by Mrs. Lovett (Weslie Webster, The Mousetrap), a widow who runs a failing meat pie shop on the bottom floor. Subsequently, he learns that his wife poisoned herself and his daughter Johanna (Harli Cooper, Legally Blonde) is now the ward of the very judge who sent him away.
Lovett recognizes Todd and allows him to reopen his barbershop upstairs. Todd and Lovett soon realize they have mutually profitable needs: his, a compulsion to seek revenge on those who wronged him and hers, a demand for cheap fresh meat. Complications arise when romance blossoms between Anthony and Todd's estranged daughter, and the plot thickens even further as Todd faces a blackmail scheme from rival barber Pirelli (Daniel Black, Million Dollar Quartet), along with increasing suspicion from Lovett's assistant Tobias (Ross Griffin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and a neighborhood Beggar Woman (Lauren Marshall, Legally Blonde).
Will his collaboration with Mrs. Lovett succeed, or will their toothsome plot come at too high a price?
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a macabre musical masterpiece with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, based on the 1973 play by Christopher Bond. The Tony® Award-winning score is peppered with darker themes like the chilling "No Place Like London," as well as the wickedly funny tunes, "The Worst Pies in London" and "A Little Priest." The show's musical director is Ron Murphy and the choreographer is Ashley Gentry (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs through October 26. Tickets may be reserved by calling (931) 484-5000 or by visiting www.ccplayhouse.com. Currently at the Playhouse: Boeing Boeing in the Adventure Theater through October 4.