3 Questions for the Man Playing Sweeney Todd in Milwaukee

A sharp role for this Skylight Theatre actor.

By his count, Andrew Varela and his wife, Susan Spencer, have 10 national Broadway musical tours between them. But now that they have settled in the Milwaukee area, they’ve been fixtures in the Skylight Theatre’s musical productions, sharing the stage in Les Miserables and The Wizard of Oz.

This month, Varela takes the stage as the title character in Sweeney Todd, the landmark musical by Stephen Sondheim about a barber transformed by the desire for revenge. Paul Kosidowski talked to him about the role.

Has Sweeney Todd been on your radar for a while?

This role is at the top of my bucket list. I’ve wanted to play it since I saw the PBS broadcast of the play in 1981. I’ve spoken to Sondheim about it at cocktail parties. In fact, I was sitting on the sofa next to him when he found out that the Sweeney Todd movie won the Golden Globe.

How are you approaching it?

I want to show a man who isn’t like what he becomes. I want to be able to see every step of the transformation. It’s so huge, so volcanic. I’m already in training for it. That involves exercise, singing every day, taking care of myself. This is my Ironman. I’m Rocky. I’m drinking my eggs, coach!

What’s more fun to play — good guys or bad guys?

Bad guys, all day long!

Go See It

Sweeney Todd (May 19-June 11), Broadway Theatre, 158 N. Broadway

‘Close Shave’ appears in the May 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.