The French novelist Joseph Marie Eugène Sue is often credited with the first written appearance of the phrase "revenge is a dish best served cold." But Sue never met Sweeney Todd, a man who would have preferred his revenge served in a steaming hot meat pie.
Todd, the murderous protagonist of the Stephen Sondheim classic and Tony Award winning musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," will return to life once more on stage at the Clarence Brown Theatre from August 30 to September 16.
The musical follows the young Benjamin Barker, a London barber, whose seemingly ideal existence is stripped from him by the machinations of a corrupt judge. The judge, who lusted over Barker's young wife, wrongfully sends him to an overseas penal colony. After 15 years away, Barker returns under the assumed identity of Sweeney Todd with the expressed purpose of seeking revenge. Todd forms an unlikely partnership with his downstairs neighbor Mrs. Lovett, who is the owner of a meat pie shop, and together the two move closer to his goal through a combination of murder, baked goods and cannibalism.
The two main characters of the show, Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, are brought to life by veteran actors Jeff Austin and Dale Dickey respectively, and for both performers, their roles provide exciting challenges.
For Dickey, a UT graduate known for her roles in "My Name is Earl" and "Winter's Bone," her challenges come from the dichotomy of Mrs. Lovett, as she is tasked with trying to make the wrathful and murderous Lovett both funny and menacing.
"Mrs. Lovett is a tremendously challenging role," Dickey said. "... There is such a dark viciousness to her to go along with this dotty comedy as well... It's just a terrific, meaty role to play all of this humor and the darkness with the challenge of singing to this beautiful music."
As for Austin, a longtime actor with credits in "Carnivale," "Bones" and "How I Met Your Mother," his main goal is to try to create sympathy within the audience for Todd, who is both a villain and a victim in his own right.
"Bottom line, it is the passion of love that drives Todd," Austin said. "He was absolutely in love with his wife and she was ripped away from him... And it is that loss that starts the process of him going insane, something that he not only takes out on the judge but also all of mankind."
Ultimately, the show revolves around the partnership of Todd and Lovett, a bond that forms as they move one razor-thin slice after another closer toward the judge.
"They're both helping each other out," Austin said. "But at the same time, Lovett becomes in love with Sweeney, something he is oblivious to... This whole story, she is getting closer and closer to Sweeney, and I don't want to ruin the ending, but it is quite intense."
The show is directed by Calvin MacLean with Musical Direction under Lucas Richman, who will be leading thirty eight musicians from the Knoxville Symphony of Orchestra.
Show dates and times are August 30-31, September 1, 4-7, 11-14 at 7:30 p.m. and September 2, 9 and 16 at 2 p.m.
To purchase tickets call 865-291-3310 or 865-974-5161, or log on to knoxvillesymphony.com or clarencebrowntheatre.com.