The long-awaited and eagerly anticipated Sondheim Celebration — budgeted at $10 million — kicks into full gear May 10 when the first of six major Stephen Sondheim musicals begins previews at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Sweeney Todd, the tale of the “demon barber of Fleet Street,” casts Brian Stokes Mitchell — of Ragtime and Kiss Me, Kate fame — as the knife-wielding Sweeney Todd and Christine Baranski — the Tony winning star of both The Real Thing and Rumors — as the meat-pie-making Mrs. Lovett. The remainder of the star-studded cast comprises Hugh Panaro (Anthony Hope), Mary Beth Peil (Beggar Woman), Walter Charles (Judge Turpin), Ray Friedeck (The Beadle), Celia Keenan Bolger (Johanna), Mark Price (Tobias Ragg), Kevin Ligon (Pirelli) and Cupo (Jonas Fogg).
Sweeney Todd will officially open to the press on May 12, and a review is expected in the Washington Post on Monday, May 13.
Considered one of Sondheim’s masterpieces, Sweeney Todd originally premiered at Broadway’s Uris Theatre on Feb. 6, 1979, with a cast led by Len Cariou (Sweeney) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Lovett), who both nabbed Tony Awards for their roles. Harold Prince directed the production, which was awarded the 1979 Tony for Best Musical. A 1989 revival at Circle in the Square Theatre featured Beauty and the Beast’s Beth Fowler as Mrs. Lovett and former Evita star Bob Gunton as the man who returns to London to avenge the death of his wife.
The most recent production of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler work, which is based on a version of “Sweeney Todd” by Christopher Bond, was a concert presentation directed by Lonny Price and led by Tony winners George Hearn — who eventually played the title role on Broadway — and Patti LuPone as Mrs. Lovett. The critically acclaimed concerts confirmed the strength of Sondheim’s score, which boasts such tunes as “The Worst Pies in London,” “Johanna,” “Pretty Women,” “A Little Priest,” “By the Sea” and “Not While I’m Around.” Brian Stokes Mitchell won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in the revival of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. His other Broadway credits include lead roles in Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Jelly’s Last Jam; Oh, Kay!; Mail; King Hedley II; and the City Center Encores! presentation of Do Re Mi. Mitchell also has a long career in TV and film, including roles in “Roots: the Next Generations,” “Trapper John, M.D.” and “Call Me Claus.” Christine Baranski won Tonys for her work in Rumors and The Real Thing and has also been seen on the New York stage in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Obie Award), The House of Blue Leaves and Lips Together, Teeth Apart as well as the Encores! production of Promises, Promises. Baranski has also achieved much success on TV, winning an Emmy Award for her performance as the boozy best friend on "Cybill." Her film credits include "Legal Eagles," "Addams Family Values," "Jeffrey" and "The Birdcage." Baranski will be seen in the upcoming feature film version of Kander and Ebb's "Chicago."
Christopher Ashley — who helmed the Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show — directs the Kennedy Center Sweeney, the first of the six Sondheim musicals being offered this spring and summer. The other five titles: Company, Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, Passion and A Little Night Music. Tickets for Sweeney range from $29-$79 and can be purchased by calling (800) 444-1324. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is located in Washington, D.C., at 2700 F. Street. For more information, go to www.kennedy-center.org.
—By Andrew Gans