In Part Three of a series of interviews with the cast of Sweeney Todd at Olney Theatre Center, meet Frank Viveros.
Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on the stage and your appearances on DC stages.
I’m Frank Viveros and I’m a Colombian born illegal immigrant turned American Citizen living the dream as an actor/singer. I’ve worked a lot regionally and spent 2 years creating the role of Ubaldo Piangi on the new Phantom of the Opera tour. The only time I’ve worked in DC was while working for Disney I was flown up to sing at the Smithsonian.
Why did you want to appear in the Olney Theatre Center production of Sweeney Todd? When did they offer you the role? And what did you perform at your audition?
The first named character I ever played was of Beadle Bamford in my freshman year of college. You fall in love with this music. My good friend David Benoit told me he’d be doing the production and that they may be searching for a Pirelli. I was put in contact with the creative team but then I booked a job in Texas which conflicted with the NYC audition. I submitted a video with part of “The Contest” and The Confrontation scene. They offered me the role a few days later.
How is this production similar and different to your experience playing The Beadle in Sweeney Todd in college?
As answered above, I did it in college. The Beadle is a great character but I remember constantly being afraid of missing an entrance because he returns at so many random moments. Pirelli is slightly less stressful as he only enters twice but he is far more exhausting because of the amount of energy he requires for all his showboating. Both production are dear to me, but I was so young then and no matter how great you thought you could pretend to be an adult, the truth is always better.
How do you relate to Pirelli? What do you admire about him?
Pirelli is a chameleon of sorts. He’s a hustler who is whatever he needs to be to make sure he isn’t begging on the streets. Aside from his more criminal activities, I can’t imagine an actor who wouldn’t relate to him. I spend my career playing African Americans, Italian opera singers, animals, machinery and then I call my mom and talk to her in Spanish. Actors know all to well how to hold side jobs or dulltime jobs while auditioning or working. Whatever it takes.
How would you describe Stephen Sondheim’s score?
WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS. I’m not even going to get started on the pitches or rhythms because there isn’t a font large enough for those because this bad boy is HARD. The words are so delicious. They are truly worthy of being enjoyed like a good steak. There are so many of them and some of them come at you really fast or really high in the sky but giving them each their due is the daily challenge and reward.
What do we learn about you character when you sing your solos or duets?
He adores the sound of his own voice. Honestly, he should be a politician. He is underhanded, manipulative, and self serving behind closed doors but puts on a show like none other. The more his lies are pointed out, the faster and higher he sings. Distractions, distractions, distractions. He just wants to make Fleet Street great again.
Tell us about working with David Benoit and E. Faye Butler. What do you enjoy most about working with them and what do you admire most about their performances?
What a treat! I love doing my second production with powerhouse Benoit. He is such an incredible performer whom I steal and learn from as much as possible. He loves art. Truly honors it and relishes in being a vessel for it. The honesty and generosity with which he acts is masterful. The force of nature that is Lady Butler is felt from moment one of meeting her. She refuses to lack purpose and do things just to do them. She motivates each laugh, each flirt, each interaction with a medical precision. Character actors are my favorite and these two truly are a masterclass. With with all that I can also state they are two of the craziest and funniest humans I have ever had the honor of calling colleagues and most importantly: friends.
What have you learned about yourself – the actor and singer-while working on Sweeney Todd?
I’ve learned to trust myself more. To dive deeper Into things that scare me. I’ve also learned to stop saying I’m going to retire my high C’s because every time I say that I end up having to sing even more of them.
What was Director Jason Loewith’s vision of the show and his vision of your character when you first began rehearsals? Has it changed? And was there something new about his vision that surprised you? or thrilled you?
When Jason called me about the role he talked to me about the duality of Pirelli. The showman of his first scene has to be balanced by the danger of his second. Jason gave me such freedom to discover the role while reminding me of the purpose underneath the fun.
How has Musical Director Chris Youstra helped you with your performance and vocally?
Chris loves a voice and if you show him you can do it then he wants it and more. Having my Pirelli sing in countertenor land for the last word of “The Contest” was all his idea. I love the idea of him running out of high notes to mask his inadequacy.
Why do you think Sweeney Todd is still so popular? What does the show have to say today’s audiences?
“There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit and the vermin of the world inhabit it” Injustice is a part of life. Resentment; revenge; love are also a part of it. This show has such honesty in humanizing a character who was wronged in every way possible and to watch the deepest and sickest fantasy of revenge play out like an elegant opera is quite a therapeutic experience. Everyone has the ability to claim others as the villains of their own story.
What would you say to a young actor who is preparing to play your role in his or her school or university production?
Consult with a GOOD and PROFESSIONAL voice teacher. It’s a hard role to sing and as someone who sometimes was allowed to sing things he shouldn’t have in my youth I’m a big advocate for protecting young voices. I’d also remind them not to judge him as that is for others to do.
What’s next for you on the stage?
Not sure and rather not say. Fingers crossed. Grateful and patient.
What is your favorite kind of pie? And why?
I’m Colombian so I haven’t had a lot of pie in my life. I’m never mad at a chicken pot pie or a piece of apple pie with ice cream.
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Meet the Cast of Olney Theatre Center’s Sweeney Todd: Part One: David Benoit (Sweeney Todd).
Meet the Cast of Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Sweeney Todd’: Part Two: E. Faye Butler (Mrs. Lovett).
Sweeney Todd at Olney Theatre Center reviewed by Nicole Hertvik.