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The Ballad of Sweeney Todd

By Jennie McKeon

The Pensacola Opera is changing up the current season in many ways. Not only is the opera beginning its current season months earlier in October, but the opening performance, “Sweeney Todd,” is beyond the expectations of opera lovers.

“It all sort of fit,” said Artistic Director, Kyle Marrero of the timing.

The tale of the revenge-seeking barber, who sends his victims down a chute to be cooked into meat pies, falls perfectly in line with Halloween, but have no fear, no fake blood is shed. The gore is instead conceptually staged through lighting.

“So there’s no blood packs messing up the stage,” Marrero said.

The original 1979 Broadway production is a musical thriller, not an opera. Telling—or rather singing—the story of the “demon barber” with operatic voices will be a refreshing take on the story.

“I think that’s why it’s exciting, showing the audience something else out of the usual scope of traditional opera,” said Corey McKern, who plays the young, naïve Anthony.

McKern moved to Pensacola about three years ago, although he doesn’t get to see much of it due to performing in other operas. For “Sweeney Todd,” he looks forward to singing in his “home company,” and getting to see more of his newborn baby.

“I grew up in Birmingham. I enjoy living in a smaller town,” he said. “And it’s a super rare luxury to sleep in my own bed.”

Not only does McKern consider Pensacola Opera is home company, but his wife Chandra is the director of education and community outreach for the opera.

Making his Pensacola Opera debut, Leo Day will be offering his vocals to the evil Pirelli.

“He’s an over-the-top character, a swindler, liar—he deserves to die I think,” he said with a laugh.

Day moved from New Orleans to Pensacola seven years ago.

“I was one of those under water during Hurricane Katrina,” he explained.

Now, he is the minister of music at Olive Baptist Church as well as an adjunct professor at University of West Florida. After seeing Pensacola Opera productions, he wanted to join in on the fun.

“I saw ‘Little Women’ last year and it was superbly sung,” Day said. “The staging was first class.”

Getting to perform quality work in the comfort of your city must also be a luxury for Day. He talked about his love for singing and Pensacola Opera while he was waiting to board his flight to a performance.

“It’s grand opera in a small setting, a feat unto itself,” he said.

Day points out that the toned-down bloodshed makes the play open to all ages.

“I’m bringing my 11-year-old and 13-year-old, I love to expose them to the arts,” he said. “You can tell a horrible story in a friendly way. Why not tell a crazy story for all ages?”

The semi-stage execution also allows for the music by Stephen Sondheim and the opera performers to shine.

“Sondheim for us is like Puccini of musical theatre,” Marrero said.

“It’s a great story with a great American composer,” McKern said.

The opera is usually a fast paced production, with the professional singers flying in a week before opening night.

“It’s a whirlwind,” Marrero said. “We basically put the show together in nine days.”

Different aspects of the local arts community work together for the opera performances. UWF designs and makes the sets and costumes and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra provides the music.

“Our motto is ‘Big city opera with small town charm,’” Marrero said.

With that kind of pressure, you have to wonder what kind of drama happens backstage.

“No one is poisoning my water,” Day joked.

Instead the local and professional singers work very well together, without any rivalry.

“The professional singers are so wrapped up in the competition of singing, we have a healthy respect for the out of town singers,” Day said. “We’re all strange creatures who love celebrating the human voice.”

Opera performances sell out quickly, so don’t wait to get your “Sweeney Todd” tickets.

“It’s the perfect date night,” Marrero said.

And whether you’ve seen the musical on Broadway or rented the Tim Burton adaptation, leave your expectations at the door.

“The singing will be really great,” McKern said. “I loved the movie, but this a different experience. The movie is great for its reasons and so is this.”

SWEENEY TODD
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. October 19, 2 p.m. October 21
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $30-$110
DETAILS: pensacolaopera.com