The first to die has the most fun. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?
Well, if you’re Michael Marone it does. He gets to be the first to meet a terrible fate in Theatre at the Grove’s production of “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” and he couldn’t be happier.
“The whole show has been a blast,” said the guy who plays Pirelli in the horror musical.
“Sweeney Todd” is a 1979 musical thriller that’s set in 19th century England and tells the story of Benjamin Barker (aka Sweeney Todd, who is played by Mark Petrole), who returns to London after 15 years of being jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. He soon finds out that his wife is dead and his child has been taken away, so he, along with pie-maker Mrs. Lovett (played by Alice Lyons), whose shop is below the barbershop Barker owned prior to his leaving London, begins getting revenge on those who did him wrong.
Marone’s character is a catalyst for this and helps spark the idea for one of the most disturbing aspects of the show.
“He’s a Flamboyant Italian haircutter who is challenged by Sweeney Todd when he comes to town to a contest and, of course, he is defeated,” Marone said of his comedic relief character.
“But, Pirelli thinks there’s something odd about the whole situation. He recognizes Sweeney from his past and realizes that he isn’t exactly who he’s telling everyone he is, so he wants to uncover his secret and reveal him as the sham that he is. Sweeney, of course, takes things into his own hands and can’t let that happen. Sweeney killing me is what gives him and Mrs. Lovett the idea to make these quite interesting meat pies.”
Interesting is an understatement – the pies are made of human parts.
There’s plenty of blood to go around, and Marone said a half gallon to three-quarters of it has been used for each showing.
“It requires a lot of laundering costumes, and throwing saw dust on the stage,” Marone said with a laugh of the bloody cleanup. “Things get pretty messy.”
With all the gore that comes with “Sweeney,” how could it have captured audience’s attention for all these years?
“It’s unlike any other musical really,” Marone said. “It’s totally bizarre and off-the-wall; it’s not your stereotypical “boy falls in love with girl” kind of story. People who love horror movies and even just suspenseful thrillers will enjoy it because it’s a nice change of media, to see something like that live on stage.”
“There’s greed, there’s love, there’s jealousy – all those meaty things in the story,” said director Angel Berlane, “but then there’s also, especially with Sweeney, this transformation that happens to him over course of show.
“I think the biggest struggle in this show was making it believable, making the audience understand the characters, because you want to have empathy for them, and how do you relate to someone who’s killing people? We have wonderful actors, though, that accomplished that, and really got the message of the show across.”
The set is also something to behold, as it has the most working pieces that the Grove has ever seen, according to Marone. It’s a London street with balconies and shuttered windows that open and sliding brick panels that reveal a large cube that rotates to all sides to make the barber and pie shop. There’s also a giant trap door with what Marone calls a “gruesome sliding board apparatus” to send Sweeney’s victims to their pie fate.