Paul Kerryson admits
he is taking on the biggest challenge of his career when he
directs the anniversary production of Sweeney Todd
in London. He talks to sondheim.com about his long association
with Sondheim and his plans for the concert.
SSS: Paul, your appointment as director for the Sweeney
Todd concert was approved by Sondheim himself. When did
you first become aware of his work?
PK: I went
to see A Little Night Music in London in 1976, starring Jean
Simmons, Joss Ackland and Hermione Gingold. I was much younger
then and approached it in the sense that I hadn't seen many
musicals, so at that time the fact that it was written by
Sondheim didn't really mean much to me. But it was a great
show and Hermione Gingold was hilarious, and although it didn't
turn me into an instant fan, when I started working at the
Library Theatre in Manchester, many years later, I suggested
that we put on Side By Side By Sondheim.
It went on, I
didn't direct it, and it starred Jeanette Ranger, who was
to become my Mrs Lovett years later in Leicester. No-one was
doing Sondheim at that time in England so we agreed we should
set the trend and we did the European premieres of Merrily
We Roll Along, Pacific Overtures and Follies.
Cameron Mackintosh saw Follies, everyone got the Sondheim
bug and Follies was produced in the West End.
SSS: What made you continue putting on Sondheim shows
when you moved to Leicester Haymarket Theatre nine years ago?
PK: I had
a big theatre to play with and could do it myself! We couldn't
have had a better start because Sondheim came over for the
entire rehearsal period of Merrily We Roll Along. It
was fantastic. There was a lot of pressure but it was enjoyable
pressure because we were dealing with someone who was so inspirational.
SSS: How did the request to direct the Sweeney Todd
concert come about?
producers needed to find someone who would get the approval
of Sondheim. He said "yes" to me. Casting had already
been approved for Len Cariou, Judy Kaye and Davis Gaines but
once I was approved, the rest was up to me.
SSS: How much costume and set will be used for the
aren't really important for a concert version, it's more important
that we have voices which will carry across the Festival Hall
over a 40-piece orchestra. You can have a brilliant actor-singer,
but their voice might not be strong enough. But I've never
directed a concert ever, so it's scary for me too. What is
wonderful is that the entire back wall of the Festival Hall
is covered by a huge array of pipes of a 1950s organ. We certainly
plan to make the most of that.
SSS: So you're using the full organ introduction then?
show will be totally uncut. The Judge's song, parlour songs,
tooth-pulling scene, everything. The whole book, the whole
score. I don't really see the point in doing it any other
SSS: How much staging are you planning?
PK: I have
to be careful because you either do the whole thing or you
don't. This will be a staged concert, we are trying to create
an atmosphere on a concert platform. We have a chorus of up
to 40, which will be very Greek in style with lots of pointing
and comment, as part of the action. There's no place for a
set with an upstairs and downstairs, and the concert the night
before doesn't finish until 11pm, and our first run-through
is at midday so time will be tight. I've got to be clever,
there won't be ovens and drains and buckets of blood. But
we will be doing full costume.
SSS: Will it be intimidating to direct the man who
created the role of Sweeney Todd and won a Tony Award
has played the character many times before, and sung it in
concert, but I have it on good authority that he is still
very good and can still do it, and Sondheim did approve his
casting. Judy Kaye is brilliant, really fantastic. Even thought
they have done it before they have never done it with me,
and it would be a mistake to do it exactly the same as before,
or what's the point in having two weeks of rehearsal? I don't
think they've done a staged concert of the piece before so
it will be different, new and exciting for all of us.
SSS: Which role do you find most challenging to direct,
almost an impossible question, but Mrs Lovett is very difficult
because she has so many levels. She is a manipulator who changes
and adapts throughout the piece. Sweeney has a clear
line and a goal and a set of values. But I tend to take them
as an item together.
SSS: Given a free choice, which other Sondheim shows
would you like to direct in concert form?
PK: I love
Sunday and Into The Woods and Company,
but they wouldn't work as concerts because there is so much
dialogue. I guess it would be Follies as a second choice
after Sweeney Todd.
SSS: How will you present the concert as a whole, when
a concert is obviously less than the whole?
hoping to create a whole, satisfying event. There will obviously
be minuses, in the lack of set, but there will be pluses too,
the big chorus and huge orchestra. It's a challenge because
I know I will want my blood-soaked sheet, chute and chair,
but when people see an opera sung through in a concert they
listen to the words and music, and use their imaginations.
It still works. I just have to be able to stimulate people
aurally and make them use their imaginations.
SSS: Thanks for talking to sondheim.com, Paul. Just
one final question: Do you eat meat pies?
not eaten them since I was about three and my Gran warned
me that you never know what's in them. But I'm not averse
to giving them to guests!