Stage

The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Sweeney Todd, Voices of the Spirit and More

Start your weekend with a blood bath. Friday is the opening night for the Houston Grand Opera's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

At the center of the action is, of course, Sweeney Todd, a barber with a taste for revenge, and Mrs. Lovett, a shop owner who isn't above popping a little human flesh into her pies. With her pastry shop on the decline and the prospect of a life sinking even further into poverty, Mrs. Lovett decides upon drastic, gruesome measures to keep her business going and to try to improve her fortunes in life. Susan Bullock plays the lethal lady in Houston Grand Opera's upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

This venture is a first for Bulllock, an opera singer who's done everything from Puccini's Madame Butterfly to Wagner's Ring to Strauss's Elektra (considered one of the bloodiest operas, so maybe it was good training for her role in Sweeney Todd). "It's very challenging. Sondheim is very clever. He's a genius and his music is tricky. It's really quite difficult music. The words are incredible and just the odd change of the rhyme," Bullock says. "Then there's all the spoken dialogue. In my normal repertoire, I don't speak a word. And I have to conquer a Cockney accent."

Bullock, who grew up in Manchester, England, the daughter of two police officers, said she was originally going to be a pianist but she had to have two "arts" areas to apply to a local academy, and when the people there heard her sing, they told her she might want to rethink that.

Describing her character, Bullock says: "She's the sort of Lady Macbeth of this opera. She is the power behind the throne. She's very sharp-witted, has her eye on everything all the time. But there's also a part of her that I find quite touching.

Basically, she just wants to be married and have a family, and have a normal kind of life. She really does like Toby, the young boy, but she knows in the end he is going to have to go, he's going to have to go the same way as everybody else because she's ultimately driven by a wish to elevate herself socially. She is a monster, but there are sides to her." Asked why the show has been such a success, Bullock laughs and says: "It's ghastly, really, but people just love it. The melodies are great."

See Sweeney Todd at 7:30 p.m. April 24 and 29, May 2, 8 and 9; 2 p.m. April 26. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, visit houstongrandopera.org or call 713-228-6737. $18 to $370.

This story continues on the next page.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Olivia Flores Alvarez