Set designer Mary Fry with Mary Fry Designs works on the nefarious oven

Stepping into Sweeney Todd’s shoes

Pat Brown explores the role of Sweeney Todd for the upcoming performance by Soundstage Productions opening Jan. 14.

The holiday season is a time of tradition for many people.

For Pat Brown, the traditions continue through the holidays to January, when he’s gearing up for another performance with Soundstage Productions.

“You meet so many great people and you network and it’s like a big family. Every year you get excited, you can’t wait and we hound the director all year long asking ‘what are we going to do next?” Brown said.

It’s like a second Christmas for the 11-year Soundstage veteran who will be returning to the spotlight once again, this time as the lead role in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Brown has never even thought about acting anywhere else.

“I go every year because I love the people and I love doing it. I’ve never had the inkling to go elsewhere,” he said.

Brown found out that he would be taking the lead role in the production shortly after the auditions let out in September. Once he found out he’d be taking the lion’s share of the lines, he had some research to do.

“I wasn’t even familiar with Sweeney Todd. Everyone had told me about the Johnny Depp movie, I still haven’t seen it,” Brown said.

He decided instead to stick with the classics and got his feet wet with the 1982 Broadway musical version with Angela Lansbury and George Hearn.

“I loved it, I thought it was wonderful. I thought, yeah, this is the kind of character I’d really like to sink my teeth into. He offers a lot of layers this guy,” Brown said.

For those unfamiliar with the work, the themes explored in Sweeney Todd are often overshadowed by the murderous nature of the demon barber, but Brown feels the production explores facets of humanity that permeate in our daily lives.

“Every layer in this show relates directly to all of us. I think we’ve all had these feelings before of betrayal and loss. It’s a very universal message,” Brown said.

“The whole world to me, and I’ve believed this for a long time, it’s very dog-eat-dog. Everybody is out for themselves and that’s human nature and I understand that. This musical really captures that, that it’s dog-eat-dog, every man for himself.”

However, Brown said, it’s not all doom and gloom, he added there are “glimmers of hope” in the generally dark themes.

Todd is a character who has been wronged and seeks revenge, but he isn’t as cold hearted as his murderous reputation would have people believe, according to Brown.

“His revenge seems to come from a fairly honest place. So you do empathize with him and you feel for him,” he said.

Brown’s first foray into working with Soundstage Productions was the starring role in Jesus Christ Superstar. He has been involved in the past 11 productions, including Hair, Oliver!, A Christmas Carol and last year’s Les Misérables.

Of all the work Brown has done on the stage over the past decade, stepping into the shoes of Sweeney Todd has stuck out.

“It’s probably the hardest character I’ve had to do, and I’ve had the pleasure of doing quite a few,” Brown said.

The difficulty for Brown comes from the different layers of the conflicted character, and trying to evoke the audience’s empathy for a murderous main character.

“He’s unpredictable, yet underneath it all he is a human being and that really does come through, even though he is kind of crazy. Years spent in a prison wrongfully, I think that would make anyone crazy,” Brown said.

The role has been challenging when it comes to the musical side of things as well.

“I’m so used to rock music. This is so the opposite of straight music,” Brown said.

Though it’s a tough role, that makes it all the more enticing for Brown.

“That’s the other reason I like doing it, it’s a challenge. It’s a treat for me really.”

The production marks the first time that Brown will be working with co-star and MacEwan theatre arts graduate Ashley Surowsky, who will be taking on the role of Mrs. Lovett.

“She is so great. She’s such a talent. I feel quite honoured to be working with her,” Brown said.

The doom and gloom and harsh reality of the dog-eat-dog themes explored in Sweeney Todd might paint a picture of a morose story. But despite the dark subject matter, there is plenty of humour to be found in both the characters and the production as a whole.

“It’s not a blood-and-guts show. The human condition is also funny. So you have to incorporate that to be relatable. There are so many comedic moments that are just wonderful,” Brown said.

Comedic timing was one aspect of the character Brown found came easy.

“I’ve always been sort of the class clown type,” he said.

Sweeney Todd will debut Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. and run through to Jan. 16 with two shows on Jan. 17 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the Penticton Lakeside Resort or by phone at 250-493-8221.