Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert opens Friday! Before you see them on stage, we thought you’d like to meet the actors behind two of Stephen Sondheim’s most memorable characters: Dustin Davaldo, who plays the title role, and Mia Fryvecind Gimenez, who plays Mrs. Lovett, Todd’s partner in crime.
We can confidently say that you’re going to be impressed by their vocals. Both studied opera at the University of Iowa, more than a decade apart. Gimenez went on to perform with Chicago Light Opera before moving to San Francisco, where she thrived in the musical theatre scene for 15 years before returning to Iowa City. Davaldo, although extremely appreciative of all he learned, claims he never really liked opera, and his first love has always been musical theatre. Sweeney Todd, he thinks, is the perfect combination of the two – an operatic musical! He describes the role of Sweeney as “the role of a lifetime,” and feels privileged to have the opportunity to play him, especially in this production, with a full orchestra and a cast that is overflowing with extraordinary talent.
Gimenez, having played the Beggar Woman in a California production of Sweeney, says she’d never considered being cast as Mrs. Lovett. “The woman who played Lovett when I played the Beggar Woman was so amazing, I just couldn’t see myself doing it. But the day of auditions, it occurred to me to try,” her infectious laugh rings out, “Why not, right?”
Both actors agree that this version of the show is unlike any Sweeney you’ve seen before. It is often played with a scaled-down chorus, and the orchestrations are adapted for a small combo. This concert version will be done with a full orchestra on stage, and a cast of nearly forty performers. The spectacle will be the music, the lyrics, the beautiful orchestrations. It’s going to sound incredible, but it will also put the focus on the story, without the distraction of complicated sets or special effects. Music Director Carl Rowles has assembled a top-notch orchestra to support the amazing cast. “Carl is relentlessly devoted to perfecting Sondheim’s music,” said Davaldo. “I’m a musician first, so to perform this piece with the full orchestra is thrilling.”
Having trained in opera, it’s not the singing that these two find most challenging, despite the notoriously difficult Sondheim score (ask someone in musical theatre Stephen Sondheim’s middle name!). Gimenez finds the patter songs and the amount of dialogue the biggest challenge to playing Mrs. Lovett. That and “finding the demon inside me,” she jokes. Mrs. Lovett’s mix of flirtatious fun, absolute pragmatism and complete lack of any moral compass is tough to convey, but Gimenez makes it look easy. Davaldo, too, finds the acting more difficult than the singing. He says he doesn’t have much experience doing plays, only musicals, so “I was always able to fall back on my voice.” He credits the show’s director, Mark Christopher Baer, with helping him to make Todd “more three-dimensional, less internal. I’ve had to learn how to feel the entire spectrum of Todd’s emotions, like a real person.”
When asked about his favorite moments in the show, Davaldo says he really enjoys “Epiphany,” which allows him to “channel all of my energy into one song, and then be utterly exhausted at the end of it.” He also cites great performances by others in the cast. He says he laughs out loud every time Michael Penick (Anthony) and Maya Bassuk (Johanna) rehearse “Kiss Me,” though he’s seen it countless times. Rob Kemp (Pirelli), Anna Anderson (Beggar Woman) and the other leads are “so amazing.” He also loves “all the partner work with Mia.” The whole experience for Davaldo, “is almost surreal. It’s like I still can’t believe I get to do this!”
Gimenez has many favorite moments, too. She loves performing “Not While I’m Around” with Hank Welter (Tobias). “It’s the one moment when Mrs. Lovett feels maternal,” she says, “and you wonder whether she’s choosing Todd over Toby, or if she really believes they can make a little family somehow.” She thinks working with Welter is particularly great, because he’s a good listener. “That’s a rare quality in such a young actor,” Gimenez points out. “When I’m working with him, it reminds me to get out of my head and just listen to what’s being said.” She also enjoys playing the parlor scene with Joshua Fryvecind (Beadle), her offstage husband. “There’s a cat and mouse element to that scene, and we’ve had a wonderful time playing with it at home, trying it every which way.” Gimenez’ 12-year-old son, Deuce, also makes an appearance as a boy criminal, so it’s truly a family affair.
Everyone involved in this production is excited to open this weekend. They’ve worked very hard to bring the dark masterpiece to life. The rest of the cast is listed here. Check out our Facebook page for a video peek at a recent rehearsal. Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert runs one weekend only, Feb 12-14 at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts. Bring your Valentine, but leave the kids at home: this show contains intense violent and sexual imagery. Tickets are on sale now at the Box Office, 1301 5th Street in Coralville, by phone at (319) 248-9370, or online.