Playing a murderous barber isn’t the biggest challenge for Mike Lipphardt.
For Lipphardt, the hardest part will be handling the lyrics and lines of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
“Sondheim is always really tricky,” the Noblesville resident said. “There’s just so many lines and so many things moving really fast. Sondheim is a master of music, but the lyricism in the show is just so tricky and easy to get mixed up. So that’s probably been the hardest part for me is the memorization of making sure all the words are in all the right places, so that it sounds good with the music and is the way Sondheim intended.”
Main Street Productions will present “Sweeney Todd” Sept. 21 through Oct. 1 at Basile Westfield Playhouse.
“I grew up on the Johnny Depp movie version but have been in theater most of my life and actually saw a production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ when I was in high school,” said Lipphardt, who grew up outside Detroit. “I’ve always wanted to play the character, so I’m just really glad that it was able to work out here.”
Lipphardt said the stage version is much more nuanced than the movie version.
“I just feel like the stage version, in particular, nothing can beat the idea of like a two-story set where folks are sliding down into the pie shop or the nuance of the love and the quest for revenge that Sweeney is pursuing throughout the show,” Lipphardt said.
Lipphardt, 34, said he is not getting too caught up in other portrayals of the character.
“It’s really hard when you are playing a really iconic character in a show where people have ideas how that character should look and act and how they should sing all the songs,” he said. “So, it’s making sure you are faithful to the source material, faithful in the characters the audience come in mind with, but also wanting to make it your own and leaving your stamp on it in a way.”
Noblesville resident Andrea Odle is directing at Basile Westfield Playhouse for the second time. She directed “White Christmas” in 2021.
“I definitely wanted to bring ‘Sweeney Todd’ somewhere, and since ‘White Christmas’ went so well, I figured why not do another musical here?” she said. “It’s the complete antithesis of ‘White Christmas,’ which is all pretty and pure. Then we have ’Sweeney Todd’ and carnivorous pies.”
Odle said this is one of her favorite Sondheim musicals.
“This one is so different from every other Sondheim musical. That’s kind of why I’m drawn to it,” Odle said.
There are 23 cast members, including 10 principal ones and 13 ensemble members.
Normally, there is a six-week rehearsal schedule, but Odle added two weeks for vocal rehearsal because of the challenging music.
Odle said the set is intricate with two stories and seven staircases.
“So, that always poses a challenge for actors to block as well as safety (issues),” she said.
Odle saw the musical performed on stage for the first time last year at Footlite Musicals in Indianapolis.
“I already was planning to do it, so it was kind of neat to see the difference between my vision and their vision,” Odle said. “They did a fantastic production, so we have a lot to live up to.”
Indianapolis resident Claire Slaven plays Mrs. Lovett, owner of a failing pie shop. She performed in the ensemble in the Footlite Musicals production.
“I became close to the woman who played Mrs. Lovett and got to watch her doing it,” Slaven said. “I knew that was something that I really wanted to do. It’s a dream role for me.”
Slaven said many people think Mrs. Lovett is just the comedic relief in the show.
“I really wanted to play this role because I think she’s very challenging because not only is she the comedic relief, but there’s a lot of really deep layers to her,” Slaven said. “She’s been really hurt and really wounded and she’s just lonely and wants to be loved. There’s just a lot of depth to her that I think sometimes goes unnoticed because she’s just funny, so people just assume she’s funny. That seemed like a challenge to me, and I wanted to take that challenge on. It’s very wordy. Sondheim is a mastermind. It’s just really brilliant stuff.”
The song “The Worst Pies in London” pushes Slaven to the top of her range.
“I’m more of a lower singer, so that’s been a challenge, but I’ve really enjoyed being stretched,” she said.
For more, visit westfieldplayhouse.org.