Friday, July 8, 2016

Getting to know Sweeney Todd's John O'Connor

Getting to know Sweeney Todd's John O'Connor

What is your favorite part about this role?

JC: Its complexity. I have played some of history's top traitors--Judas Iscariot, John Wilkes Booth--but none has seemed, at least from one perspective, so two-dimensional and loathsome as Sweeney Todd.  Yet, he's the protagonist, and the audience has to see his redeeming qualities. With lots of help from director Carly Shank and assistant director John Paris (for whom Sweeney is among his favorite characters on the stage), I've tried to make him complete, showing the (sometimes-contradictory) nuances in his character. 

What has been the biggest challenge during rehearsals?

JC: Without question, the music.  Sondheim's score is exacting and unforgiving.  With most musicals, a performer can come in and make a song his or her own, bring a personal style to it.  Not so with Sondheim. His work is a 3-D puzzle that fits one way, and it a piece is out of place, the melodic mastery is lost. 

What has helped you to get to know your fellow cast members and gel with them?

JC: There's nothing like theater to bring strangers together, along with bringing long-time acquaintances back together, for a common goal: Taking a two-hour show and transforming it from scribbles on a page to a living, breathing piece of art in six weeks. Everyone comes in the door ready for the challenge, knowing that one person cannot do it alone. But I have to say I could relate to Sara Baltusevich Goeckner, who starred in Muni's first show this season, "South Pacific," when she lamented not being able to spend much time with the cast.  It's great to be the star, but often, you're on stage when everyone else is off, and vice-versa. There's something to be said for being a member of the ensemble and all the jocularity that goes with it. 

What's your favorite song and why?

JC: "A Little Priest," for its morbid hilarity. It's catchy, clever, and the way Meredith Vogel-Thomas delivers this homage to meat pies made of priests and politicians and lawyers and artists has ensured it a special place among my Broadway favorites. 

How did you get involved in Muni, and when?

JC: In 1996, Don Bailey cast me in a featured role in "Little Me," starring Muni trustee Stephan Kaplan. I then appeared on the Muni stage in each subsequent summer until 2008. In 21 years of association with Muni, I've been on stage 17 times. 

What is it about Muni that keeps you coming back?

JC: Muni is a group of helpers.  I am repeatedly amazed at the number of newcomers each year, and each is welcomed and typically given the tools to succeed.  The spirit of helping is clearly evident in the Sweeney Todd cast and staff.  In the cast are musical theater veterans, expert straight actors, others who are vocal performers without a lot of acting experience. I have seen the cast members help one another based on the strengths of each. This spirit is an undercurrent throughout the Muni community. 

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