BY CARY GINELL
Actor Damian Gravino is playing one of the “meatiest” roles (Sondheim should appreciate that pun) in musical theater history, performing in the title role of the Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi’s production of Sweeney Todd. When he is not giving his customers too-close shaves, Damian and his wife Kathi run Xcel Productions, which produces family and children’s theater, murder mysteries, and melodrama. One of Kathi’s alter egos is as Pinki the Clown. Since 1981, she has entertained for parties, theaters, parades, fairs, the circus, TV, and abroad. Kathi is a member of the World Clown Association and the Western Region Clown Association and has taken first place in performance and parades. Damian took a brief time out in between lathering up customers to provide a few answers for us about Sweeney Todd.
VCOS: When you do Sondheim, what special preparations do you need to take?
DAMIAN: This is the first Sondheim show I have done. It was a lot of hours working on the music for me.
VCOS: Is there a model that you have for the perfect person to play Sweeney, or do you have your own ideas on how he should be played?
DAMIAN: I try not to look at anyone else who has done the role I’m working on. I want to make the character mine, put my own nuances to the character and not be influenced by anyone else.
VCOS: Is Sweeney a pure villain, or should he be sympathetic?
DAMIAN: Sweeney is a villain by circumstance. He didn’t start as a villain, or is a bad person. He was set up. Revenge is a terrible thing. In my perfect Sweeney world, had he realized his mistake (and I’m trying not to spoil the story) at the end of the show, he would have let go of revenge. So I think he’s a sympathetic character.
VCOS: What’s the most difficult part of the role?
DAMIAN: The most difficult part of the role is the music, but also trying to sing, lather, slit throats, and dump bodies while doing so.
VCOS: Does it take a while to grow into the part, or did you “have it” by the first performance?
DAMIAN: This has been a difficult part because he is so different from my personality, you have to get into a certain mindset.
VCOS: I term the combination of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett as a “sweet-and-sour” relationship. What do you think about this?
DAMIAN: Mrs Lovett does have more emotional levels than Sweeney, but sweet… I don’t know. She’s a little twisted.
VCOS: What are other challenging roles have you’ve played?
DAMIAN: I would say Don Quixote, Teyve, and Cyrano de Bergerac. But Sweeney is one I’ve been wanting to do for a long while.
VCOS: Finally – tell me about the company you’ve run with your wife.
DAMIAN: The company my wife and I run is called Whodunit Diner. It’s a murder mystery dinner theater. We do it at different venues. We are planning to do another one in November called Murder At The Petticoat and Pistol Saloon.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center through July 13. For a review of the show, see http://www.simivalleyacorn.com/news/2014-06-13/On_The_Town/Demon_barber_of_Fleet_Street_comes_alive.html