TWIN FALLS — A dark cloud hangs over Twin Falls actor Kenny Sparks. It’s the type of mood that just weighs on him. When something annoys him, he flashes an angry glance.
He has only one person to blame for this terrible mood he’s in: the murderous barber Sweeney Todd.
“It’s emotionally, uhh, traumatizing,” Sparks said. “I haven’t had a relationship with a character like this before. When I walk down the street, I have this cloud over my head. I carry a little bit of Sweeney’s anger with me.”
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” opens tonight at the Orpheum Theatre. It’s the tale of Sweeney Todd, an unjustly exiled man who returns to London and sets up shop as a barber. He’s less interested in a perfect shave and more interested in revenge on Judge Turpin, the man who framed him.
This is Sparks’ first starring role; his previous roles were being part of the ensemble in “Beauty and the Beast” and King Triton in “The Little Mermaid.”
This is also the first time the Magic Valley Repertory Theatre has tackled the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler 1979 musical. It will perform six shows beginning Friday.
All of London fits on the stage of the Orpheum Theatre, thanks to a giant wheel that takes viewers from the dingy streets to a blood-spattered barbershop. The entire play looks like it came out of a gutter — and that’s a good thing. “Sweeney Todd” thrives in an environment that mirrors the angst-ridden characters.
Sparks said that he took inspiration from the original actor Len Cariou’s characterization in the 1979 Broadway performance — a performance that is as primal as it is heartbreaking.
Sweeney Todd was an upstanding citizen who was naive to the evil of the world. In the case where others rise above adversity, Sparks said, Sweeney Todd is crushed and becomes a prisoner of his anguish.
“I want to channel that intensity,” Sparks said. “When you play a character you boil them down to their essentials. For Sweeney Todd, that is anger.”
Judge Turpin is the worst person in a story full of awful people.
Turpin is portrayed by Jared Johnson, who said that his character is a sexual predator and uses his position of power over others. When Johnson walks off stage he is happy to shake off the role, he said.
“My job is to make the audience’s skin crawl,” Johnson said. “In this day and age, there is a lot to take inspiration from, sadly enough.”
As the character Mrs. Lovett, Suzy Stokes has a more emotional range than the rest of the actors. Lovett, the owner of the worst pie shop in London, is pining for Todd’s affection and is willing to bake his victims into meat pies.
Lovett “is the codependent side to his narcissistic coin,” Stokes said. “I think she’s scared — she lives penny to penny. I think she’s resourceful. I think that she is stronger than she knows she is.”
Stokes talks about the character like she knows every intricate part of her. She said this has been a dream role for her and it is her first major role in a production. When putting together the character, she took inspirations from Broadway performers. She used a notepad while watching them, taking note of things she wanted to capture: Angela Lansbury’s giddiness, Emma Thompson’s feverish mannerisms and Patty LuPone’s cool, collected attitude.
But Stokes has also made the role all her own. Although the character could be strong, she plays Lovett with a certain fragility. She’s just a prisoner of Sweeney Todd’s ego.
“I’m a single mom and I see her resilience in me — I wouldn’t resort to meat pies though,” Stokes said. “It makes it easier when I can relate to her; when you’ve loved someone who doesn’t love you back.”
Lovett sings some of the most complex songs in the play. Stokes worked six months on her audition song, “The Worst Pies in London.” She said this song had a lot of importance in the musical: It’s the introduction of the character and exudes personality and nuance.
This is the first Sondheim musical that the Magic Valley Repertory Theatre has staged. Director Emily Johnson said the music is what made her want to direct the show. She said that since they are tackling a Sondheim musical, they might as well go for the most complex.
First-time performer Connor Plate finds music like this intimidating but says he has his fellow actors for support.
Plate got into “Sweeney Todd” because he lost a bet. His customers at Jakers watched him sing and dance and challenged him to audition.
“This music takes collaboration,” Plate said. “It’s a lot like my day job. I’m a cook. I can’t do anything if the person to my right isn’t there helping me.”