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A Slice of Sondheim

Local performer Mark Ivy enters the delightfully dark world of Sweeney Todd at Theatre Under The Stars.

Mark Ivy (Photo by Ruben Vela)

A vengeful, murderous barber, who has slipped into madness over the loss of his wife and daughter, is now on a quest to exact revenge for his wrongful imprisonment and forms a sinister partnership with an ambitious baker. This story is a tale best told through musical theater. Local artist Mark Ivy will star as Beadle Bamford in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS), October 17 to 29. The classic musical is slated perfectly within the company’s 2023/2024 season for Halloween celebrations and “spooky season” enthusiasts.

“I’m playing Beadle Bamford, and he’s the judge’s bulldog. He’s kind of like a petty officer,” Ivy explains. The character serves as a secondary antagonist and target of the titular character, while acting as a sidekick to Todd’s main foe. Ivy is eager to bring his performance of the character to this production, complete with music and lyrics by musical-theater icon Stephen Sondheim. Ivy has performed Sondheim before, having portrayed Jack, a primary character in a collegiate production of Into the Woods.

“What’s great about Sondheim is that he brings so much to all of his shows, and I’m trying to figure out my way of playing Beadle. I feel comfortable in more of a naturally comedic setting, so I’m having a good time finding those nuances.”

Ivy is no stranger to the stage, having recently completed a successful run in Drag Wonderettes at Stages in Houston. Sweeney, however, is a segue into a darker realm for the performer. “This show is totally out of my comfort zone, and that’s what I’m kind of relishing,” he says. “I’m used to being the goofy nerd or sidekick and I don’t always get to do these kinds of roles. There are so many layers to the onion when performing Sondheim, so I’m excited to peel those back. I tend to stay away from looking at other performances of productions right before I go into a show process,” he states, “because I want to take a different approach and always want to put my spin on it.”

Stepping back on the TUTS stage has the artist reassessing the endurance it takes to perform the material each night. “I have been training more for this role than I have for all my other shows,” he admits. “I’m playing Beadle, so I have to be big and commanding on that stage. It’s definitely going to be hard on the entire cast’s bodies, so I’m doing stretches every day with help from an app on my phone, drinking much more water, and cutting out sodas. The music is so incredibly hard and the text is so rich that it really is a masterclass in how to do musical theater.”

The eccentric force of nature is grateful for this opportunity to return to TUTS, explaining it was always a dream of his as a young student at the company’s Humphreys School of Musical Theatre. “It always feels full circle whenever I’m on that stage. Every single time we go into tech, I always get chills  because I still remember that 14-year-old going on stage for the first time and looking out into the house with the stars on the ceiling and just thinking how huge it is. It is exactly what I love to do, so I never take it for granted.”

“I am always in awe that I have done what I’ve always dreamed of,” the Sugar Land native declares, “which was making a career in musical theater, working at all the theaters in Houston, celebrating the great art and diversity we have here, and performing amongst my peers who I used to watch on stage—there are almost no words for it.”

Ivy invites readers to join him in the mad world of Sweeney Todd, and assures it has something for everyone. “Audiences are going to have a great time and laugh, but also be a little chilled. I think people tend to forget how funny and goofy the show is. We’re talking about pretty intense things, like meat pies made from questionable sources, but it’s the words in the songs that make it not just spooky, but incredibly fun,” he says emphatically. “Sondheim is the best of the best, and Sweeney Todd is one of his best. It is a great time to see a show that is meaty (pun intended), funny, spooky, and scary. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll want to watch it over and over and over again.”

WHAT: TUTS presents Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd
WHEN: October 17–29
WHERE: Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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