Saturday, December 29, 2007

Q & A With Donna Lynne Champlin

As promised, the terribly kind & extremely talented Donna Lynne Champlin took the time to answer some (actually, all!) of my Sweeney Todd-related questions. What follows are honest & comical insights into the John Doyle revival & thought on Tim Burton's new film adaptation.

MWP: From your experience in the revival, I love to get some insight into Mr. Doyle's casting decision of 'Pirelli' as a woman.

DLC: Well, there are many theories floating around- the most popular being that we needed another woman's voice to fill out the ensemble singing, and we'll never know for sure but i tend to disagree with that theory.

MWP: What's your take on it?

DLC: I think it was a combination of a few things- But mostly, I think John thought of the Pirelli track as 95% 'doctor' and 5% 'Pirelli'. And I know that he felt very strongly that the DOCTOR character was best served as a woman. Looking on my own journey in the track- it really WAS for me, 'doctor doctor doctor (Pirelli) doctor doctor doctor' all night long. And while, I am clearly not the obvious choice to play 'Adolopho Pirell' in a traditional SWEENEY production, if you look at the responsibilities of the 'Doctor Pirelli' character, I absolutely had the skills and qualities that John was specifically looking for in that role.

MWP: Biggest freedoms?

DLC: Well, there really was no way for me to be realistically compared to previous Pirellis (which was awesome as I think they've all been marvelous performers and who needs that pressure?).

MWP: Any pitfalls?

DLC: Pitfalls? uterus got in the way a couple times but, other than that...

MWP: What was your favorite moment or song to sing or play in the revival?

DLC: Oooooooooh tough tough tough call. Can't decide so I'll give you my top three:

The very first 'sniff' to start the whole thing off at the top. It was like that feeling when you get to the top of a roller coaster and think 'here we goooooooooooooo!'. Simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating and I won't lie, I loved having the responsibility of starting it off every night. It was a total thrill for me.

'Not While I'm Around'. It was a rare moment where I could sit down sans accordion, play the flute and just watch the genius that was Mano and Patti. I just loved the orchestrations in that song, and having the freedom to just sit, make some sweet music and watch those two be brilliant. Plus Lauren and I had a rare moment of connection there as well, which was nice. it was also the last 'breather' before the final big push to the end, i treasured it every night.

And, that final ballad man. Nothing beats it. And it's a bitch to play so we all would woodshed the crap out of that lick every night. All over the theatre you'd hear people woodshedding those last 8 measures of the final ballad before the show and during intermission- but it was just a kick in the head to play. There is the final ballad of SWEENEY TODD. That last 'badada badada bum bum bum BUMP!' is just....theatrical nirvana.

MWP: Overall thoughts on the film?

DLC: I must say that I think it's wonderful that they've made a move of SWEENEY TODD. Anything that gets that brilliant musical out to more people outside the musical theatre circle should be supported and lauded and i'm thrilled for its success. I'm also a huge fan of Tim Burton, Alan Rickman and Johnny Depp.


There was just a lot lost emotionally and vocally for me in the film version. Especially, I think that if you take the edge off of 'Lovett' (especially vocally) then...every woman in the storytelling seems rather passive as a result. They also took Johanna's killing of Fogg away and the Beggar Woman's vulgarity in 'hey hoy sailor boy'. I don't know... I just love how Sondheim writes strong women and I was bothered by the fact that these women in the film all seemed like neutered versions of their theatrical counter parts.

Also, regarding 'film acting' vs 'theatrical acting' - I just don't think that because it's film you have to bring everything down emotionally especially if it's a musical. I mean, what would we do if Marlon Brando merely murmured 'Stella' because he was doing the film version and not the stage version anymore? Angst is angst, high stakes are high stakes and just because it's a film doesn't mean it's inappropriate for someone fall to his knees screaming at the top of his lungs...if that's what the moment calls for. I think SWEENEY's story is much more archetypal than STREETCAR... and I would have loved to have not only seen that emotional intensity from the cast members, but heard it vocally as well.

Anyway- I absolutely applaud that it's out there- I'm thrilled that people love it and it's a success- but I personally prefer the live version with more musically theatrical acting choices.

MWP: What deleted portion/segment/song did you miss the most?

DLC: Ohhhhh, dear God...the FINAL BALLAD! I understand, cinematically- the visuals eliminated the 'need' for the ballads in the story telling but...not even over the CREDITS? Not even instrumentally? With Paul Gemignani conducting? You're KILLING me not giving me that final ballad music. Kil-ling-me.

MWP: What element/visual did you enjoy the most?

DLC: I thought BY THE SEA in the film was handled brilliantly. It was the best use of cinematic convention in the whole film. I just wish there'd been more of those moments where they used the fact that it was actually a film more to their advantage.

I also loved the vocal pay off of the young boy playing Toby. I had never heard that track sung in a pure boy's soprano and thought the innocence of that was really a great change.

MWP: Any words on Mr. Cohen's Pirelli?

DLC: Well, I think Sacha Cohen is a genius, was totally prepared for him to put me to shame and I thought he was brilliant. He found the perfect blend of 'real person' and 'character' that Pirelli needs and he sang it EXTREMELY well! I will admit that I was quite envious of all his props, accordion free body and top hat free face...really jealous. Actually, his character was one of the few characters I enjoyed seeing dialed back a bit. Whether he did that 'for film' I don't know, but I think the way he played it would have certainly worked onstage as well. I thought he was wonderful (and so was his artificial *ahem* 'package').

MWP: What's the most inspiring thing Ms. LuPone said durning the revival's process?

DLC: The most inspiring thing about Patti was not in what she said but how she conducted herself every day within the dynamic of the ensemble. She was right in the mix with all of us from day one. She trusted us and we trusted her and to her credit there were many many many times that we all forgot 'who she was'.

Also, the fact that she went right from playing 'Mrs Lovett' to playing "Mama Rose' in Ravinia for three weeks, and then came right back (without a break), to playing 'Mrs Lovett' was...beyond inspiring- it was mindboggling. How she never missed a show during that month playing two of the most difficult female roles in all of musical theatre is beyond me.

MWP: And for the hell of it, what's the funniest thing Ms. LuPone has ever said to you?

DLC: The funniest thing... I can't repeat as it's hilarious and yet, extremely filthy.

I cannot thank Donna Lynne enough for taking time out to answer my questions!


A to the S said...

I think Donna and I need to be best friends, as we both had the same thoughts and feelings on the stage version and the movie, to a T. Great questions Sir William!

Michelle said...

AWESOME. And yeah, she totally vocalized some of my biggest problems with the movie. Nicely done!

William said...

Thanks, ladies!