In Part 7 of a series of interviews with the director and cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s Sweeney Todd meet Daniel Plante
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.
Daniel: My name is Daniel Plante, this is my first show in the DC metro area, though you may have seen me in numerous productions at Shepherd University, where I did my undergrad in Vocal Performance.
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 you play?
I recently moved to the area, and was recommended to LMP by my girlfriend. Doing Sweeney sealed the deal though. I had played the judge in Shepherd’s production of Sweeney Todd in 2012 and was overjoyed with the opportunity to reprise the role.
How is this production similar or different from other productions you have appeared in, or seen?
Some elements will always carry over (the dark humor, the challenging music, etc.) but what has really been different (to LMP’s credit) is that everyone is on the same page artistically. Previous productions that I’ve worked on pulled punches when it came to Sweeney’s story, or cut elements that drastically humanized characters, reducing complicated characters like Sweeney or Judge Turpin to predicable and uninteresting archetypes. TJ and his team have done a great job preserving Sweeney as a hard-hitting, powerful show.
Also, the entire cast has come prepared to every rehearsal and has tackled a really challenging score with a dedication that rivals some professional groups. From the first notes of music I heard, I’ve been inspired and impressed with the work ethic and commitment of this cast.
Who do you play and how do you relate to your character?
I play Judge Turpin, a local magistrate who takes what he wants with little regard for others. In a show full of morally questionable people, Turpin is by far the most despicable. He’s an indifferently cruel man. An absolute tyrant, a rapist, pedophile, and supremely vindictive. He’s also cold, calculating, self-disciplined and extremely confident, making him incredibly dangerous.
What have been some of the challenges preparing for your role?
Judge Turpin is a tough role to play. Playing a villain is one thing, but Turpin takes creepy and vile to a level that I hope to never run into in real life. I studied a lot of villains that borrow from him: Hunchback’s Frollo, Harry Potter’s Lucius Malfoy, as well as Edmund Lyndeck and Alan Rickman. Edmund originated the role and set the standard for being the “dirty old man” that Turpin is. Rickman is the master of utter contempt and did so supremely well in Burton’s production.
How would you describe Stephen Sondheim’s score for Sweeney Todd?
The cast and I have joked that Sondheim is equal parts genius and sadist. His music is some of the hardest in musical theater, and even puts modern opera on notice in terms of its demanding needs. This fact further emphasizes just how hard-working and talented this cast is for mastering it.
The score for Sweeney Todd is the perfect balance of creepy, threatening and powerful. Every song grabs you and demands you pay attention. It makes perfect sense why this show translated so well into a heavy metal production. The music is incredibly percussive, complicated, and potent, but easily digested by its audiences.
What is your favorite song that you don’t sing in the show and why?
I would give an arm and a leg to sing Sweeney’s “Epiphany.” We’re watching Sweeney as the final thread that his sanity hangs by snaps. Even by this show’s standards, it’s a powerful song that just fills you up with energy, fury and palpable dread. Every time it comes on my iPod I feel almost electrified! It really gets the blood pumping and makes you feel so alive!
What are your solos/duets and what do we learn about your characters as you sing these songs?
The Judge gets two songs: Johanna (Mea Culpa) and “Pretty Women.” “Mea Culpa” is a treasure trove of information on the judge and is often a surprise to people who think they know the show. “Mea Culpa” is often cut from productions, for reasons of time and, despite the depth it provides an important layer of complexity to Turpin; the fact remains that it is by far the most unsettling scene for most audiences.
He’s facing the fact that he is not in control of his carnal urges for Johanna, and tries by any means necessary to regain mastery of himself. He struggles with intense sexual feelings for Johanna and his knowledge that such feelings are at odds with his view of himself as a paragon of virtue. What results is his rationalization of his urges and his plan to legitimize them by marrying Johanna.
“Pretty Women” is less about learning about the characters as it is amping up the tension. Sweeney finally has the judge in his power, and is relishing the power he feels over the judge. They sing about the wonderful things about women. The judge, blissfully unaware of his impending doom, sings of his future wife while Sweeney lulls him with the one thing they have in common: love of Sweeney’s wife and child (albiet in wildly different contexts)
What has been the most challenging scenes/songs to learn and perform and how has your director helped you to overcome these challenges?
“Mea Culpa” has been a particular challenge. The music is very difficult, and the character is in a place I have absolutely no personal experience with. On top of that, every production I’ve done of this, “Mea Culpa” was cut before rehearsals began, so was starting from scratch.
TJ and Chris have been incredible in slowly walking through our blocking and giving feedback on how I’m coming across and ways I can improve. He’s quite skilled at communicating what he wants and has been incredibly patient with me as I tackle this material.
What do you admire most about your castmates’ performances?
Everyone, from the other principles to the ensemble, has tackled this show with a fire and passion that continues to impress me. The work ethic, the preparation, and the insights they have provided have been invaluable to me and to each other. The show is going to be incredible, thanks to the talent and effort of these folks.
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.
Meet the Cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s ‘Sweeney Todd’: Part 5: Garrett Matthews.
Meet the Cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s ‘Sweeney Todd’: Part 6: Lauren Lowell.
Meet the Cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s ‘Sweeney Todd’: Part 7: Daniel Plante.
Em Skow reviews ‘Sweeney Todd’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.