To commemorate his 50th appearance in a quick stage career already smart, accomplished and occasionally quirky, Parker Robertson ‘18 decided to submerge into something convincingly cruel and deliciously sinister … dripping in dark revenge, tragedy with heartbreak … all threaded by horror and coal-black humor.
Unrelenting grisliness. Just for giggles.
Robertson stepped out front and center in the musical thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a weekend HITS version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 musical macabre set in a gloomy London of the 1800s or thereabouts.
A tale of lost innocence, betrayal, the monstrous perversion of justice and a compulsive need for revenge, all while ruling out decency and mercy.
“The opportunity was inspiring and unlike any other I’ve experienced,” Robertson says. “There’s a quote that best describes my motivation. ‘I’m not an actor because I want my photograph taken. I’m an actor because I want to be a part of the human exchange.’ I don’t care if it a classic or avant-garde … if the audience is 15, 50 or 5,000 … doesn’t matter.”
Robertson brought a fine wide-ranging voice, a chilling expressive presence and uncanny timing to the vile Judge Turpin who banishes the title character, born Benjamin Barker, to exile and imprisonment even though he had committed no crime.
The heartless Turpin then makes off with the younger man’s lovely wife Lucy and young daughter Johanna, who grows up to become the hanging judge’s ward and prisoner. He soon finds himself in the crosshairs of a bloodlust-obsessed antihero once Sweeney escapes and commences his one-man rampage of revenge.
“Over the years I had listened to the show, seen the (2007 Tim Burton) film a couple of times, so you have an expectation of how you might play the character,” Robertson says. “Alan Rickman was obviously great alongside Johnny Depp but as an actor, you want to discover something genuine to your talents … something unbiased to what you have previously seen … not simply an imitation of someone else but your own interpretation.”
Given the real-life mayhem associated with Hurricane Harvey, Robertson and the cast had to adjust once the three-month, six-hour Saturday-only rehearsal schedule was truncated to five weeks.
Yet Robertson was still able to harness a serpentine charm while also discovering that sometimes evil can become him.
“I spent just as many hours in the mirror as reading alone … experimenting with facial expressions … morphing my face … adjusting posture … discovering the subtle physicality,” he says.
“There’s a zone … creepy, ominous … where you have to deep dive. That means pulling upon other works or art unrelated to the role … Rembrandt and El Greco portraits … anything to try to see how this guy views the world. The judge is dead behind the eyes so I searched for pictures of sharks who have that glass-eye, dolls-eye look. Inspiration can come from unpredictable sources.”