Sweeney Todd: interview with Blake Bowden

The final opera in Victorian Opera’s Stephen Sondheim trilogy opens next week with the much-anticipated Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Under the direction of Stuart Maunder, 2013’s Sunday in the Park with George and 2014’s Into the Woods sold out, won critical acclaim and converted new comers to become Sondheimites.

Victorian Opera 2015 - Sweeney Todd Rehearsal LR © Charlie Kinross (44)
Victorian Opera, Sweeney Todd rehearsal. Blake Bowden & Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Photo by Charlie Kinross

To keep us guessing, no production photos have been released, but there is a photo of giant pie oven on their Facebook page to whet our appetites.

Joining Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Sweeney) and Antoinette Halloran (Mrs Lovett), and making his Victorian Opera debut, is the 2011 Rob Guest Endowment recipient Blake Bowden as Anthony, the young man who meets “Mr Todd” when they sail to London. Anne-Marie Peard asked him about his own love of Sondheim and what it’s like to be in a production with such expectations placed on it.

What was your first encounter with Sondheim?

Into The Woods, original Broadway cast, the filmed for tv version. I was only a kid and my parents put it on for me and my brother and sister to watch. I remember loving the music and finding it so funny that we then had Mum play the soundtrack in the car on repeat from that point on. I always sung the Baker, my brother was Jack and my sister the Witch, of course.

Why do you think Sondheim is so loved?

The man can write a tune! And his wit musically and lyrically is truly genius. People are drawn to a work that they can listen to or watch again and again and continually find new experiences with.

What’s going to make Victorian Opera’s production memorable?

The cast is absolutely superb, you couldn’t ask for a finer group of actors and singers, but what makes it so special is that I feel everyone suits their casting. There is something wonderful about watching actors enter roles, that you can’t imagine anyone else playing. It makes it feel exciting and fresh. And the directorial prowess of Stuart Maunder and his wonderful industrial, Victorian vision.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes & Annette Halloran in rehearsal. Photo by Charlie Kinross.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes & Annette Halloran in rehearsal. Photo by Charlie Kinross.

How do you relate personally to playing Anthony?

Anthony has a strength and eternal optimism that I strive to achieve day to day. He sees the world as a wonderful place of opportunity and hope, which leads him to see the good in people and believes in redemption, something I strongly believe also.

He also falls in love very easily and quite quickly, which I have found myself doing once or twice!

What’s your biggest challenge for this production?

I think that honouring a piece of work that is so loved is always daunting. To be on stage and play a part and in particular sing a song like “Johanna”, which people have loved and heard many times, always comes with a certain amount of pressure. Yet I also think that there is a joy in that as well. It’s a privilege to be able to stand on stage and deliver my interpretation of one of my all-time favourites.

How do you describe Sweeney Todd to someone who hasn’t seen it?

It’s a dark, but surprisingly charming piece of musical theatre about revenge and unrequited love and the misfortunes that chasing either of those things brings. I think it has the best overall score of Sondheim’s works, as it is brooding and operatic in scale, with some of his most tuneful songs, all while being a compelling story of the struggle between desire and reason.

How would Anthony describe Sweeney to Johanna?

Anthony likes Mr Todd a great deal. He senses a danger within Todd but trusts him completely and believes that whatever past Todd has had, he is ultimately a good man. Mr Todd is always ready to help, seeing solutions to problems that Anthony could never find alone. Anthony would tell Johanna that although he might seem a little odd and withdrawn, he is someone you can rely on.

Have you been able to eat a pie since you started rehearsal?

I actually had one just last night! I was hungry at about 10 pm and went searching for one. It was only one of the frozen variety (delicious nonetheless) but was missing Mrs Lovett’s family secret “herbs”.

What’s your favourite pie filling?

I think I would have to stick with good old fashioned thick and chunky beef, with a very generous helping of tomato sauce on top. Yum!

Victoria Opera
Sweeney Todd
16–25 July 2015

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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