BWW Feature: Stephen Sondheim Sends Regards to Jeff McCarthy, Lead Actor in SWEENEY TODD at Noorda Center
"Good luck!" the note reads. "The poster looks swell."
A note like many others theater artists routinely read from friends and colleagues. But this one is signed: "Steve S."
Broadway leading man Jeff McCarthy received the message from Stephen Sondheim while in rehearsal for SWEENEY TODD, a co-production of UVU's Noorda Center for the Performing Arts and Utah Repertory Theater Company, running Oct. 24-Nov. 9, 2019.
"It's a great honor to be singled out by the show's composer," says Johnny Hebda, SWEENEY TODD Producer and Utah Rep Executive Board Member. "This production is designed to be a spectacular 40th anniversary staging of Sondheim's masterpiece musical. We're thrilled with the lead actors and the entire cast and crew -- and their dedication to honor this pivotal show in the development of musical theater."
"Sondheim has seen many things I've done over the last nearly 40 years," McCarthy says. "He made a trip up to Barrington Stage in the Berkshires when we did 'Follies' some years ago. He brought Mia Farrow with him, and according to eyewitness reports, his face was cover in tears at some point during the performance."
A veteran of eight Broadway shows, including "Urinetown," "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," "Side Show" and "Beauty in the Beast," McCarthy has played the challenging role in two previous productions -- to glowing reviews.
"Jeff McCarthy is simply the best Sweeney since George Hearn who sang the title role during the run and initial tour of the original production," according to a review of his performance at Barrington Stage. "McCarthy has now made the role his as he throws himself into the story with a depth of energy and emotion I haven't seen on stage in years. His acting, his singing, his timing are wonders to behold."
"McCarthy's Todd is masterful," wrote the Oklahoman reviewer of his role at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. "It's a performance rich with nuance, duly frightening when he erupts into Todd's vengeful tirades but also capable of pulling back when a scene demands."
"The last time I did SWEENEY, he came, and I will admit, he said complimentary things to me that one could only dream of Stephen Sondheim saying," McCarthy adds.
"I also did the workshop of 'iSondheim,'" as the Broadway revue "Sondheim on Sondheim" was once called. "He showed up for the big presentation and said supportive things. I have other stories. I wouldn't say I have anything like a personal relationship with him but have encountered many times over the years."
Sondheim's correspondence with McCarthy was longer than the brief salute, but the balance is private.
In the pivotal role of Mrs. Lovett, the production will feature Jacquelyne Jones, who has starred in acclaimed Chicago productions, including her regional Joseph Jefferson Award-winning role as Mrs. Lovett at Theo Ubique Theatre.
Time Out Chicago raved of her Mrs. Lovett performance: "Jacquelyne Jones radiates a keen intelligence that's only sharpened by her moral flexibility. Jones sings the part well and brings both a spark-plug intensity and just a hint of sweetness. Despite the two of them murdering a lot of people and baking them into pies, you almost want them to get away with it, if only for her sake. It's a crucial ingredient to any production of 'Sweeney Todd.' Otherwise it's just a blood-soaked fairy tale."
Helming the production is Tim Threlfall, who has directed 13 productions at Tuacahn Amphitheatre in St. George, Utah, including the regional premiere of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and the American premiere of "Chariots of Fire" on stage. Previously, Threlfall served as the Artistic Director for Seattle Civic Light Opera and Northwest Summer Playhouse, as well as Education Programs Coordinator for Seattle Children's Theatre.
A leader in the Utah theater community, Anne Puzey has been selected as music director. Puzey has overseen the musical portion of many acclaimed productions, including for Hale Centre Theatre, Westminster College, The Egyptian Theatre Company and Utah Rep. She has worked with Broadway luminaries Will Swenson, Jason Robert Brown, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Kate Baldwin, and Pasek and Paul.
The opening poster for the co-production was designed by UVU Graphic Artist Lawrence, with photography by the university's Director of Photography August Miller and the logo was created by Josh Steadman, a primary Imagineer for Disney Shanghai Resort.
Just in time for the Halloween season, a ticket to SWEENEY TODD will be a ghoulish "All-Hallows-Eve" treat.
Tickets are now available at uvu.universitytickets.com/w/event.aspx?id=2292.