In Part Two of series of interviews with the cast of Sweeney Todd at Olney Theatre Center, meet E. Faye Butler.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on the stage and your appearances on DC stages.
E. Faye: My name is E. Faye Butler. I’ve been fortunate to perform in the DC metro area at Arena Stage, Signature Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Kennedy Center, Harmon Center with the Washington Ballet, and now at Olney Theatre Center.
Why did you want to play Mrs. Lovett in the Olney Theatre Center production? When did they offer you the role? And what did you perform at your audition?
I’m very proud to be the first African American Woman to perform the role of Mrs. Lovett in a professional Theatre. Someday that won’t be a big deal, but in today’s society it must be acknowledged. I was to do the role in Baltimore Center Stage about 11 years ago, and ,unfortunately, my mother who has since passed was ill and I made the decision to decline the role. It’s odd that even 11 years later I would still be the first African American to do the role. I’ve known Jason Loewith and Chris Youstra for a while and when they asked and when they asked me if I would interested I jumped at the opportunity. We discussed the possibility in April of 2016, and the rest is history.
Have you appeared in any other productions of Sweeney Todd?
This is my first production of Sweeney Todd.
How do you relate to Mrs. Lovett? What do you admire about her?
Mrs. Lovett is a woman of a certain age that just wants a nice quiet life by the sea with a man she can care for and love. I am a woman of a certain age that has been married for over 30 years looking forward to spending the best part of life with family and the man that makes me happy by the water. I admire that Mrs. Lovett is quick on her feet and will find a positive in the most negative situations. She also would do anything for love.
How would you describe Stephen Sondheim’s score for Sweeney Todd?
Stephen Sondheim score for Sweeney Todd is by far one of the most difficult score to tackle. It takes patience and constant practice. You can’t just learn the score and put it down. Even though we’ve been open a few weeks I still go over my music and lines everyday. It’s very tricky and is to be taken seriously. There is a reason it is considered his greatest masterpiece.
Tell us about working with David Benoit who is playing Sweeney Todd? What do you enjoy most about working with him and how would you describe his interpretation of this barber who is really pissed at the judge?
I’d heard the most amazing things about David Benoit long before I met him. He is a perfectionist which I truly admire. He performs full out every time he steps on stage or during the rehearsal process. He’s from the old school: do it til you get it right. He has been a collaborative partner during the entire process and I truly respect his artistry. I think Sweeney Todd wants his family back, and he will punish anyone that stands in his way.
What was Director Jason Loewith’s vision of the show and his vision of Mrs. Lovett when you first began rehearsals. Has it changed? And was there something new about his vision that surprised you? or thrilled you?
Jason is a good director. He hires the people that he feels will deliver the goods and he steps back and allows you to find your way. He guides you and continues to push you in the right direction. He asks questions that allow the actor to make the decisions. He never forces his ideas but keeps suggesting and continues to engage in constant discovery.
How has Musical Director Chris Youstra helped you with your performance, and vocally?
Chris Youstra is “A God of Music.” e was the one constant that kept me sane. He is a musical genius and an expert in all things Sondheim. I will never be able to thank him enough for all the clues to tackling Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett.
Why do you think Sweeney Todd is still so popular? What does the show have to say today’s audiences?
Sweeney Todd is an American Classic that will always represent the finest work of Stephen Sondheim. I believe it reminds us to be careful what we ask for we just might get it. Love can be scary and exciting – yet a dangerous thing. What would you do for love?
What would you say to a young actor who is preparing to play Mrs. Lovett in her school or university production?
Study the score and follow the roadmap before you. This is a well-written score and book. Trust it and best of luck. I couldn’t imagine doing this role in college.