date published: October 22, 2007
by Josh B. Wardrop
Actor David Hess brings “the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” to life this month, taking on the lead role in an acclaimed touring production of composer Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, opening October 23 at the Colonial Theatre. Below, he shares his thoughts on musical bloodletting with Panorama.
Q: How do you make a razor-wielding barber into a sympathetic character?
A: I try to play Sweeney as someone who’s uncertain, fragile and in pain. I try never to judge a character—nobody’s all good or bad. Sweeney’s flaw is that he can’t forgive people who’ve wronged him. If I got cut off on the freeway, for example, I’d let it go—he wouldn’t (laughs).
Q: In addition to acting, the cast acts as the orchestra—actually playing instruments
onstage. An unusual concept, to be sure...
A: I was afraid it would weaken the dramatic effect, and I couldn’t imagine how you could stay in character while stopping to play very complicated orchestral passages. But it’s astounding how quickly it became a natural extension of the role.
Q: Sondheim himself has complimented this interpretation of Sweeney. As an actor,
how does that stamp of approval feel?
A: It’s thrilling, and surprising, considering how radically different [director] John Doyle re-imagined the show. My job, first and foremost, is to give an honest, committed performance—but if Sondheim hadn’t liked it, it would’ve broken my heart a little.
Q: Anything you’re looking forward to doing while in Boston?
A: I’ll probably visit historical sites—I love studying the lives of real people, and Boston has some very famous ones.
Q: Should squeamish types fear the gore associated with Sweeney?
A: It’s actually been really toned down. Originally, we had buckets of gloppy “blood” that turned stomachs. Now, we’re doing more with lighting and leaving things more to the imagination.