BWW Interview: Anoinette Halloran of SWEENEY TODD at His Majesty's Theatre
WA Opera are bringing Stephen Sondheim's much-loved musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to His Majesty's Theatre this July, and we caught up with opera star Antoinette Halloran, who joins the cast as the infamous Mrs. Lovett. Read on to find out her take on this twisted tale of blood and revenge.
This isn't your first time playing the role of Mrs. Lovett. What is your relationship with the character?
I had played Joanna, the pretty young thing, in a production for Opera Australia, so I knew the piece well. When I was offered the role of Lovett by Stuart Maunder, in the words of Mrs. Lovett, I thought he had "lost his marbles". However, the way Stuart wanted her played really spoke to me. She is purely driven by lust and greed. What actress wouldn't want to leap at the chance to play these motivations? She is totally corrupt and lacking any moral compass, but at the same time wickedly intelligent and funny. It is a beautifully written role.
Are you, or the company, taking any different approaches with the show this time around, especially with a different cast and 'Demon Barber'?
I am a very method actress so I find the truth in the relationship with each leading man. So yes, this Lovett has altered as my leading man has changed. Ben Mingay's performance of Sweeney is so different, that if I played her the same as in the other productions, it would not gel. So she is different. Perhaps a little crueler than before - and a bit more giggly! It is a strange cocktail of things I know! (She is still ridiculously horny though.)
What do you think it is about Sondheim and Sweeney Todd in particular that lend themselves to operatic treatment?
The score of Sweeney Todd is virtuosic. The ensemble singing is as layered and technically difficult as any 20th century opera. That is why opera companies taking on Sondheim really do justice to the complexity of the score. Sondheim wanted actors who sang, but I have been disappointed in the theatre so often seeing great actors being overwhelmed by the music. In Ben Mingay we have an actor who sings as well as any opera singer I have heard! The joy is finding people who are fully accomplished in singing and acting - they are out there! They may NOT be household names but there are plenty of amazing artists waiting for a bite of the Sondheim cherry! Our Tobias, Joshua Reckless, (a recent WAAPA graduate) is truly one to watch!!
I spend hours with a cup of tea, trawling the internet, watching EVERYTHING that is out there. I love Lansbury. Love her. But I don't want to replicate her Lovett - I couldn't! She is almost clown like, which is so funny, but I wanted to find the dark heart of Lovett. I think Helena Bonham Carter in the film came closer to this - but lacked the comedy. Emma Thompson found the comedy, but I think the music was difficult for her. Patty LuPone is probably my favorite of all the Lovetts, and Imelda Staunton sings with as much theatrical convictions as she acts with. They are all superb in their own ways.
Do you find performing musical theatre less constricting than "traditional" opera, or is it more challenging in other ways?
Mmm. I feel so lucky that I get to do both, and so thankful that I have been given the opportunity to stretch in both directions. I have been doing this theatre thing for 20 years and the ability to keep growing my skills makes me feel like every new job is my first job. I love what I do. I return to Perth in a few months to sing my first Verdi role, Lady Macbeth. Another black heart!! And this role is unlike any I have done. Operatically it is so virtuosic! It has and almost 3-octave range and is relentless in its speed and complexity. So, I can't say which genre I love more. I love anything I do that pushes me to be better, work harder and tell a story that resonates with the most important people in my professional world - the audience.
Do you have a favourite song or scene in the show that you look forward to performing each night?
There are so many! I love 'By the Sea'. It is a snapshot into Mrs Lovett's world. Her childhood memories, her dreams for a white picket-fenced future, and her complete lack of regard for any other human being in the world except her Sweeney Todd. It is a sad, funny little song and makes me wonder, when did this poor woman break so hard, and what happened in her life to make her the monster she has become?
You may have to beg, borrow, or steal a ticket to see Halloran bring the monstrous Mrs. Lovett to life, as WA Opera have just announced the season has sold out. But for more information on the show, visit here: https://www.waopera.asn.au/show/sweeney-todd/