... Sure, and how did you come to be cast in Sweeney? Sweeney
was my second Broadway show. I had an agent, got an audition and went in and sang for them and was asked to come back. I don't even think I had to read for them, I'm not sure about that. I sang a couple of times and was called and I had the job. What was it like auditioning, was Sondheim there?
No, but he was there at the early rehearsals. Boy, that was intimidating. It was perhaps the third rehearsal and we were all astonished that he was there so early on because, I mean, we had just gotten the music, you know, and it was so fresh. Luckily I had put in a couple hours at home the first couple of nights because it was really intimidating to have him sitting a few feet away. It wouldn't have been so bad the second week of rehearsal. But it was like the third day! Oh that was really, I couldn't look at the area of the room in which he was sitting. It was as if the wall was, you know, twelve feet closer than it was.
... What was behind "The Judges Song" being cut?
That was cut in the third or fourth preview, very early. Sweeney had not achieved the acclaim that it's achieved in hindsight of course so people were not willing to look upon it so kindly. He was standing on the table looking through the window, whipping himself as he lusted after Johanna and audience members, I guess, just found it to be too difficult a moment.
... The set was incredible. What was it like working with such a large set and theatre?
Well, you know, I climbed all around it when we were first in there. Climbed all up and down the stairs and everything else. But then, of course, I in my part had almost nothing to do with the set. From that moment on. I was only using that little pie shop. That little revolving unit, only coming up through the basement of it at that one time. So the set, for me, was simply like a proscenium arch. After I climbed around on it, it didn't have much presence for me. The theatre, though, was amazing. That was one of the few shows where the sound designer, looking back this would never happen now, there were two people in that show who did not wear a body mic. Myself and Merle Louise. We were only picked up by other people's mics and foot mics. So, the size of the theatre had an impact there because one had to be aware of projection. Now, of course, all the principals wear body mics at all times. But at that time Merle and myself were not on body mics. Did you ever have any problems with the set?
Well, of course, there is the famous story about the day the bridge fell. That was the most famous of catastrophes. Well it wasn't a catastrophe, they were away from it. And it got huge laugh because Angela's next line was "Nothing's gonna' harm you..." That happened in previews, I don't think we had opened yet. That was the biggest problem we had. Not many other difficulties with the set. It didn't move much. It basically was static. The thing that moved was the pie shop. So, there weren't many things to go wrong. Any other stories about the show?
One of the nicest stories about Angela Lansbury was, as I said this was the second Broadway show that I had done, the first play I had done was a straight play so there was no orchestra. I didn't realize that the first orchestra rehearsal was going to be as momentous as it sometimes proves to be on Broadway. All the producers were there and Angela Lansbury was very nicely dressed, not in her normal rehearsal clothes, and I didn't know that this was a special moment and I came in in my normal rehearsal clothes and we were in this dirty old rehearsal room in the Uris and we came up to the moment of "Not While I'm Around". Looking back this was so gracious on her part. We had rehearsed I guess three weeks by this time and part of that of course was done sitting and I came up and just sat on the floor. And Angela said to me, "You know Ken, there's no need to sit for the orchestra rehearsal." She just sat on the floor next to me. We did the moment. And looking back, she was not in her rehearsal clothes, she could have handled that in a different way. It really epitomizes the graciousness of Angela Lansbury.
As for Stephen, I was always aware, not that he made me feel this way, I was in the presence of Stephen Sondheim. I could never feel comfortable with him. I was always sure that I was going to use a word improperly. I was going to use the word "laconic" or "lugubrious" mistakenly. I thought, "Oh God I'm going to feel so embarrassed in a few minutes." So I was so aware of my conversation when I was speaking with Stephen. I made myself feel awkward. I was always aware that I was in the presence of this master of language. I was tongue tied, in awe of him.
With Hal, of course, that was not the case. There was a great deal of dialogue between myself and Hal. Just actor to director. Len was great. He was stern, though. He'd scare you. And you really thought he was going to kill you. He really did. He got so into it. You thought he was going to slit your throat on stage. It was terrifying. Anything funny happen during rehearsals or the run?
I remember there was one time, looking back, Angela would be quite a cut up. It was basically very disciplined. I tried to maintain a sense of discipline, too. But I remember one time when Angela was making a meat pie and I was sitting right next to her on stage. I was a foot away from her. The lights were going down and the pie shop was being wheeled offstage and suddenly Angela took a wad of dough and hurled it at Paul Gemignani. He was conducting! Right from the stage! She just took that wad of dough and flung it like it was a baseball or something! I was astonished. I wonder what that was all about.
Oh, she was just playing around with Paul. This was during a performance?
Yeah! Paul would have an Easter bunny with a baton in his hand and he'd disappear and there'd be an Easter bunny conducting the show. So little games like this were played. How did you develop your character of Tobias?
I basically approached it very, as I do most characters, the typical Stanislavski way. You know, discovering. It's like most actors do, you know, discovering the background of the characters, seeing what the text says about the character, and of course paying attention to how the director guides. Also, really careful study of text and continual concentration and delving more and more into the overtones or reverberations that one picks up from the text. Trying to dig deeper and deeper, trying to overturn stones in the actor's personality. Do you remember anything about his background that may have helped the interpretation?
The abuse, of course. I was upset when they cut the tooth pulling for the road tour. I think they just wanted to make the show a little shorter. The tremendous abuse of the child was something, of course, that was easy to uncover. It was so apparent and therefore the tremendous attachment he would develop towards anyone who showed him kindness since no one had
showed him any kindness and how attached he would get to Mrs. Lovett because of that. Also, in the last scene I would crawl around under the stage which eventually goes down to the cellar, the body parts, and rats. So, I would literally be crawling around under the stage during that moment. It was tempting to give myself some emotional experience of the trauma that he would experience in those cellars because to understand how the mind had snapped when he came out of the cellars was to gain an understanding of where his mind had gone then. The fury and the twist and the broken mind that developed in those cellars and that eventually caused the slitting of Sweeney's throat. One time, I think I scared a stagehand. I was crawling around underneath the stage and nobody is expecting someone to be crawling out through the shadows. How old was Tobias, as you played him?
Tobias, we're talking about fifteen. Maybe even seventeen. Because of his mental difficulties he was probably, he might have been seven really in terms of emotional and mental maturity. Truly a child.