In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the director and cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s Sweeney Todd, meet Kay-Megan Washington.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on local stages before and what shows you and roles you have appeared in and played.
Kay: I’m Kay-Megan Washington. Recent roles have included Falstaff in Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s all-female production of Henry IV, Part 1, the Washing Machine in StillPointe Theatre Initiative’s Caroline, or Change, Mme. Thenardier in Howard County Summer Theater’s Les Miserables, and Madame Opticon in the original rock opera Murdercastle with the Baltimore Rock Opera Society. I also managed to squeeze in an appearance in Glass Mind Theatre’s recent short play festival, Brainstorm 5: Ties that Bind, featuring works focusing on issues of race relations in Baltimore in the wake of the Freddy Gray uprisings.
Why did you want to appear in this production of Sweeney Todd? Have you appeared in other productions of Sweeney and if yes-who did u play?
Primarily, I wanted to do this because TJ Lukascina was directing. We had worked together on Once Upon A Mattress earlier this year and just clicked. Oh, and also, IT’S SONDHEIM!! Mrs. Lovett is a very meaty part and I wanted to see what I could bring to it that was different.
How is this production similar or different from other productions you have appeared in, or seen?
To begin with, because of the size of the performance space, it’s smaller than a lot of productions I’ve seen. The set is necessarily somewhat spare. We’re using the size to our advantage by bringing the show out to the audience as much as possible and incorporating them into the story. Plus, the music just *rings* in that space. It’s made the hair on my arms stand up multiple times in rehearsals and I know what’s coming.
Who do you play and how do you relate to your character?
I’m playing Mrs. Lovett. I told TJ early on that, as I saw it, there are two ways to play Mrs. Lovett. There’s the way people often seem to choose which involves her being an eternal optimist — sort of dizzy, a little scheming, fawning over Sweeney. And then there’s playing her as a narcissistic sociopath who’s as bloodthirsty as Sweeney is, but for much less heartfelt reasons. Guess which one I picked? I can’t really relate to the sociopathy, but I can definitely relate to her selfishness and obsessive focus on getting what she wants. I think we’ve all had those moments.
What have been some of the challenges preparing for your role?
I have a doctorate in clinical psychology, so coming up with Lovett’s backstory and motivations has been challenging, but a great deal of fun. For me, the hardest part has been the accent. Trying to make it as realistic-sounding as possible when I speak and sing, and not end up with the Cockney accent one so often hears that sounds (I’m sorry, Mr. van Dyke!) like Bert in Disney’s Mary Poppins. My loved ones have been spending a lot of time talking to Mrs. Lovett lately instead of me, while I try to get that right.
How would you describe Stephen Sondheim’s score for Sweeney Todd?
Majestic. Soaring. Epic. Every note placed precisely where he wants it. And because of that, extremely challenging to actually sing. I said to one of our younger cast members very early in the rehearsal process that there are two types of composers for musical theater: the ones who want the audience to enjoy themselves and come out of the show singing the songs they heard, and the ones who want to create art for the audience to marvel at and be somewhat discomfited by. Sondheim is the second type. Unfortunately, he sometimes seems to forget that someone is actually going to have to sing what he’s written.
What is your favorite song that you don’t sing in the show and why?
Ooh, that’s a really hard one. Probably “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” because I’m actually a soprano, and I love how that song both soars and stays constrained at the same time, like a bird in a cage. It’s amazing.
What are your solos/duets and what do we learn about your characters as you sing these songs/solos?
Oh, gosh, if I cover all of these, we’ll be here all day. How about a selection?
“Worst Pies in London” – Our introduction to the character, and one of the ones it’s hardest for me to do because she moves through so many emotions in a very short period of time, all while singing very very fast. She’s doleful about the state of her business, desperate to keep Sweeney there, resentful of her more successful business rival, Mrs. Mooney, not to mention that she’s flirting up a storm — less out of actual attraction than as a way of being engaging and hopefully getting some money out of him, one way or another. If I do it right, the audience should have a pretty solid idea of who she is by the time I’m finished.
“Wait” – The first thing I wrote in my character journal for Mrs. Lovett was, “There is something very powerful about being the only person the monster does not maul.” I think what we see for the first time in this song is the soothing effect that she has on Sweeney, quite against his own volition.
“A Little Priest” – My absolute favorite song in the show. It’s where Lovett and Sweeney actually become equal partners in what’s going to happen next, albeit only briefly. But for that moment, they’re laughing, they’re joking, they’re dancing…granted, they’re more or less doing that through the graveyard, but it’s a joy to watch.
“By the Sea” – Mrs. Lovett’s fantasy of normalcy. Never gonna happen.
“Not While I’m Around” – On the surface of it, a sweet “us against the world” song. Tobias is so fierce as he vows to guard Lovett from harm. But the danger is real, Toby’s is not nearly as clueless as everyone has believed, and Mrs. Lovett’s echoed promise of protection rings a little hollow. A real turning point for the second half of the show.
What has been the most challenging scenes/songs to learn and perform and how has your director helped you to overcome these challenges?
Oh, the end. Definitely. We’re still working on that; it’s just emotionally exhausting. No more on that due to spoilers.
Just in general, TJ has been amazing. He’s very collaborative in his approach with the actors, but he also has a very definite sense of what he wants this show to look like and what emotions he wants to create in the audience, and that helps us in deciding where to go with it.
What do you admire most about your castmates’ performances?
Oh, there’s so much. Carolyn Freel (Johanna) and Garrett Matthews (Anthony) have such a sweetness about their performances while not taking the ingenue roles too seriously. Andrew Exner (Beadle) has this extraordinary purity of tone to his singing voice that’s at odds with the venality of the character he’s playing. Mike Iacone is *hilarious*, even when he’s just standing there not saying anything. Daniel Plante (Judge Turpin) is really intimidating and scary; he’s a sweet man in real life, but his portrayal of the Judge makes me want to shower…which is exactly as it should be. Lauren Lowell’s Beggar Woman is vulnerable and steely at the same time. I honestly think hers is the hardest part in the whole show. Sophia Riazi-Sekowski is amazing — so much talent in such a young person and such a commitment to putting forward the absolute best performance she’s physically capable of.
And then of course there’s our Sweeney. When I saw Chad at callbacks, he did an amazing Pirelli and so I was sure he was going to get that. Right up until I saw him do part of “Epiphany” — then I knew he needed to be Sweeney, and I just hoped I would get to work with him. I’ll leave it there; I want audiences to get to experience him without preconceived notions.
What does Sweeney Todd have to say to modern theatregoers? Why do you think it is still so popular?
I think it’s still popular because the music is amazing and timeless, as is the story. These are all very damaged people who manage to both damage and support one another. There aren’t really any villains here in the conventional sense of being evil just for evil’s sake. It is, as they say on Facebook, complicated.
What is your favorite kind of pie?
Believe it or not, lately, it’s the Steak, Mushroom, Onion and Gruyere (SMOG) from Dangerously Delicious Pies. We need to figure out a tie-in with them for this show.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Sweeney Todd at Laurel Mill Playhouse?
Would it be too flippant to say their hearts in their stomachs?
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays through November 15, 2015 at the Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays October 23, 2015 through November 15, 2015 at Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s ‘Sweeney Todd’: Part 1: Director TJ Lukacsina.
Meet the Cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s ‘Sweeney Todd’: Part 2: Chad Wheeler.
Meet the Cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s ‘Sweeney Todd’: Part 3: Kay-Megan Washington.
Meet the Cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ Part 4: Carolyn Freel.
Em Skow reviews ‘Sweeney Todd’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.