By PAM HARBAUGH
From the steampunk styling to the fresh faces in the cast, there’s plenty of “new” about the Henegar’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 classic, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Newcomers are Kaitlin Ruby, in the ingénue role of beautiful Johanna, Sweeney’s unsuspecting daughter who falls in love with Anthony, a virtuous young man played by Raymond Weber in his first mainstage show at the Henegar. Vero Beach audiences will recall Ruby’s performance in the title role of “Evita” last season at the Vero Beach Theatre Guild. And although not a newcomer per se, Traci McGough, steps into a featured role as the Beggar Woman.
One of the big surprises was the casting of a virtual unknown, Joshua Doyle, in the role of Sweeney. But when director Dominic Del Brocco saw him at audition, he knew immediately he had his Sweeney.
“I don’t know where he’s been hiding,” Del Brocco said. “With his ability and talent, I’m surprised he doesn’t do this all the time.”
(Mr. Doyle did appear recently in the Studio Theatre production of “Dogfight,” directed by Amanda Manis, the Henegar’s new artistic director. Whew! New stuff all over the place.)
But there are familiar faces as well, including: Terrence Girard (soon to be entering into “veteran Brevard performer” status) as the cruel Judge Turpin, who, 20 years before the story begins, banished Sweeney in order to have his way with Sweeney’s wife; as the Judge’s servant, Beadle Bamford, is Greg Galbreath, a performer who first let loose his strong presence in the role of Jean Valjean at Titusville Playhouse; and Shane Frampton, a professional actress and a Henegar favorite, in the role of Mrs. Lovett, a lady who makes and sells the “worst pies in London” and who never takes a dead cat for granted.
Moreover, this is Mr. Del Brocco’s first job directing a mainstage season show. He first hit the Henegar in his winning portrayal of Clopin in last seasons’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
The Tony Award winning musical entreats the audience to attend the grisly and misanthropic tale of a murderous, vengeful barber. Helping him is his landlady who turns his leftovers into meat pies. The musical has, throughout the decades, become a favorite of professional, regional and community theaters across the country.
Mr. Del Brocco describes his take on the musical as “steampunk.” That genre combines a Victorian aesthetic with elements of the industrial revolution. Think Jules Verne with high top hats and goggles, women in velvet skirts decorated with bronze gadgets, and jewelry made of gears.
“I changed the overall look so it’s not the same old, same old,” Mr. Del Brocco said. “Typically, ‘Sweeney Todd’ is done with a turn of the century gothic theme. With my approach, I shuffled the time line a little bit to the industrial revolution.
“And I added more flair, especially to costumes and set pieces. It’s not overwhelmingly steam punk. Just a little nod to it.”
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Just as this is something new for a musical nearly 40 years old, directing a show like “Sweeney Todd” is definitely something new for a man who’s been in love all his life with everything Disney.
Born and raised with two older sisters in a working class household, Dominic Del Brocco had wanted to become a Disney animator. After getting bit by the acting bug, he set his sights on performing at the Magic Kingdom. Twenty years ago, Disney held auditions in Baltimore. Del Brocco went and got a call back. He dashed home quickly to tell his family the good news.
“I remember running to my mother and father, who were both there, and I think I played it down, like ‘Oh, that was just another audition.’ They were like ‘Oh, I guess it didn’t go well.’ Then I erupted into excitement and told them what happened.”
He scraped together some money, flew to Orlando and was cast.
For 13 years he performed in all four of Disney’s main theme parks, doing shows from “The Lion King” to “Hunchback of Notre Dame” for which is performed the role of Clopin, which, in 2016, would become his first stint at the Henegar.
Mr. Del Brocco later went into management at Disney and worked on the production teams for “Mickey’s Not So Scary” and “Mickey’s Very Merry.”
“I could wow you with an endless sea of useless Disney knowledge,” he said. “I’ve been to Marceline, Missouri, in the middle of nowhere, Walt Disney’s hometown. I’ve been to the house where he was born and raised. To his grave. To the original studios.”
He even went to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., where he befriended the man in charge of the Disney archives and who gave him a tour of the back lot and old animation studios.
So, indeed, “Sweeney Todd,” which has not only dark themes but harmonic dissonance as well, is quite the change of pace.
“I’ve done a great deal of thinking about that,” Mr. Del Brocco laughed. “Coming from a background like Disney – make everyone smile and make everyone happy – this is the opposite.
“When I was first working on ‘Sweeney Todd’ and sketching out my ideas, I had to tap into a darker place. It’s a challenge but rewarding. And it is being so well received by the cast. They think it’s fantastic.”
Greg Galbreath, who portrays the Beadle, the corrupt Judge’s servant, says working on Del Brocco’s concept has been fun and positive.
“The cast has been fantastic,” Galbreath said. “I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of new faces. I’m still amazed at how much talent (the area) continues to produce.”
Del Brocco has also kept the ensemble a tight one with a total of 22 performers.
“Within that I’ve created cast differences between upper and lower class. I utilized the ensemble through many scenes throughout the show with different story lines. I didn’t change the material of course, just the staging of it.
“For those who know the show, toward the end of the first act, two major songs will have a “pleasing” surprise.”
He was referring to two of the musical’s most iconic numbers, “Epiphany” and “A Little Priest.”
In “Epiphany,” Sweeney discovers that cruel Judge Turpin has slipped through his fingers. His bloody course accelerates and he sings he will have vengeance.
“You see change in his character where he becomes enraged,” Mr. Del Brocco said.
That is followed by “A Little Priest,” a gloriously gruesome song sung by Sweeney and his landlady, Mrs. Lovett, the purveyor of the worst meat pies in London. In it, she muses how burying the dead victims is “an awful waste.” So she comes up with her ghastly plan on how to grow her pie shop.
“That is typically just two performers singing their song to each other, but I have added a couple of elements to breathe a little life into that scene,” Mr. Del Brocco said.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” opens Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 29 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Choreography by Amanda Manis, music direction by Staci Cleveland, vocal direction by Kaimi Lucker, set design by David Robertson, lighting design by Joshua Huss, costume design by Vanessa Glenn, sound design by Thom Restivo. Tickets are $26 general, $23 military and seniors and $16 students. Handling fees are $3 per ticket. Call 321-723-8698, visit Henegar.org or click on their ad.
This is an edited version of a story running Thursday in the Melbourne Beachsider.