Cleveland Opera has a cheery little holiday production for you: Sweeney Todd, the story of a vengeance-seeking barber, the bloody path he cuts through 19th-century London, and his partner's mysterious meat pies. "It's my idea of fun," laughs Myrna Paris, who plays Mrs. Lovett, the lady behind those tasty delicacies. "I'm proud of them for booking it this time of year. It's good ol' melodrama."
Stephen Sondheim's musical premiered in 1979 and went on to win eight Tony Awards. Since then, it's played to wide-eyed and voracious audiences, subject matter be damned. "It's been my experience that people come out for Sondheim," says Paris. "They're a very loyal [audience]."
Paris, a Pittsburgh native, is a New York City Opera favorite. She's performed in The Ballad of Baby Doe, The Mikado, and Gianni Schicchi. She's also done Sweeney Todd ("A musical that belongs on the opera stage," she calls it) four times before and finds its dark humor and murderous antihero "wonderful." "I was born to sing Sondheim," she claims. "And the relationships [in the story] are great. Sweeney's in love with his razors, and I'm in love with him. It's a classic triangle."
It's also a respite from all the Christmas Carols, Nutcrackers, and cuddly snow-topped productions that clutter theater stages this time of year (we don't recall a judge pining for his foster daughter in The Dancing Snowman).
For Paris, the music is a pleasure to perform. "It just fits my voice so well," she says. "I'm a low singer, and this fits right in with my speaking range." Ironically, the score "is at its most fabulous and beautiful when [Sweeney] is killing people.
"I was talking to my daughter, who's a special-ed teacher, last night, and she was telling her [students] the plot. And they all want to get on the plane and come with her to see this. And she said, 'I don't think this would be an approved field trip.'"