Old favorites and five Minnesota premieres in Hennepin Theatre Trust’s 2016-17 Broadway on Hennepin season

Pamela EspelandMinnPost

January 29, 2016


“Wicked” returns. So do Roundabout Theatre’s Tony-winning “Cabaret” revival, and“Motown the Musical,” “Rent” and “Mama Mia!” But the 2016-17 Broadway on Hennepin season isn’t just about old favorites. Announced earlier this week by Hennepin Theatre Trust, it also includes five Minnesota premieres.

New to Minneapolis and the Orpheum stage will be “Fun Home,” winner of five 2015 Tony awards including Best Musical; “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the 2015 Tony-winning Best Play; and “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I,” the 2015 Tony winner for Best Revival of a Musical. The 2013 Tony winner“Matilda the Musical,” based on the book by Roald Dahl, will touch down, and “The Bodyguard,” based on the hit film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, filled with great songs (“I Will Always Love You”), will launch its North American tour here.

And – we are super excited about this –Theater Latté Da’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which was just about everybody’s favorite musical last year, will make an encore presentation at the Pantages as part of Broadway Re-Imagined, the fruitful collaboration between the Trust and Latté Da. (Up next: “Gypsy” at the Pantages in February.) Mark Benninghofen, Sally Wingert and Tyler Michaels will reprise their roles as the demon barber, the pie maker and the apprentice.

The season begins with “Cabaret” in October and ends with “Motown” in July 2017.Season packages are on sale now. Single tickets will be available at a later date.

As you stroll to the theater from the Green Line or wherever you park, take in our “urban walking gallery” – the once-vacant windows filled with art by local artists for “Made Here,”a project of Hennepin Theatre Trust that will continue for at least two more years. Last week Andersen Windows, the presenting sponsor since the project began in 2014, renewed its commitment, as did the McKnight Foundation (for artist support) and Best Buy (for a second Young Artists Edition).

We had hoped to see the brilliant young Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst on stage with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in February and March. Sadly, it’s not to be. After canceling his debut as a new SPCO artistic partner last November due to Meniere’s Disease – a disorder of the inner ear that causes severe vertigo, sickness and tinnitus – Fröst has withdrawn from all upcoming engagements through the 2015-16 season.

The Feb. 26-28 and March 4-6 programs have been changed and new guest artists engaged. French pianist David Fray will make his Minnesota debut with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor in February. In March, violinist and SPCO audience favoriteGil Shaham will play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. The SPCO’s website has been updated with all the details.

Fröst remains committed to his artistic partnership and looks forward to returning next season in good health.

In November, SPCO artistic partner Patricia Kopatchinskaja had to withdraw from a performance at the last minute due to an arm injury. She has since returned to the concert stage with tours throughout Europe this month, so we can expect her in April and June as planned.



Hennepin Trust to bring Tony winners 'Fun Home' and 'Curious Incident' to Minneapolis

Graydon RoyceStar Tribune

January 26, 2016


Hennepin Trust to bring Tony winners 'Fun Home' and 'Curious Incident' to Minneapolis

Hennepin Theatre Trust announces 10 Broadway shows for 2016-17 season.

The bad news is that "Hamilton," Broadway's hottest ticket, is not on the horizon for the Twin Cities. But the Hennepin Theatre Trust announced Tuesday that it has secured "Fun Home" and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" — the 2015 Tony Awards winners as best musical and best play, respectively — for the Broadway on Hennepin Season that begins in October.

If a theme emerges for the slate, it might be the travails of childhood.

The "Curious Incident" (Nov. 29-Dec. 4), adapted from Mark Haddon's popular novel, is about a 15-year-old mathematical savant who investigates the death of a neighborhood dog. Broadway audiences loved the complex character portrait.

"Fun Home," which gets the holiday slot Dec. 13-18, deals with sexual identity and dysfunctional family life, based on Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir of her complicated relationship with her father. The script is by playwright Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori ("Caroline, or Change").

Also scheduled are "Matilda the Musical," the 2013 Tony winner based on the popular Roald Dahl novel about a precocious but neglected girl (March 28-April 2, 2017), and the ever-popular "Wicked," which comes in for a five-week engagement (April 12-May 14, 2017).

"Cabaret" opens the season Oct. 18-23. This is the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of the Kander and Ebb classic.

"The Bodyguard," based on the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner film, launches its North American tour Jan. 10-15, 2017, at the Orpheum. It features singer Deborah Cox, who will belt out "I Will Always Love You."

"Mamma Mia!" is back Feb. 7-12, 2017, for its eighth engagement at the Orpheum. "Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I," Tony winner for best musical revival, checks in Feb. 28-March 5, 2017.

Of local significance, Theater Latté Da extends its relationship with the Trust next March 1-26, 2017, with a reprise of its critical and box-office hit"Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." This will be the fifth consecutive year that Latté Da has staged a local production at the Pantages Theatre. Director Peter Rothstein will remount a show that sold out an extended run last fall at the Ritz Theater. Mark Benninghofen returns as the title character, along with Sally Wingert and Tyler Michaels.

The season concludes with Jonathan Larson's "Rent" June 6-11, 2017, and"Motown the Musical" July 11-16, 2017.

Season subscriptions and information are at HennepinTheatreTrust.org, or 1-800-859-7469.

"Hamilton," Broadway's hottest show in many a season, previously has announced an open-ended production in Chicago, beginning in September. Separately, a tour was announced Tuesday to begin in San Francisco next spring. It will then spend five months in Los Angeles before moving to other unnamed cities, according to the New York Times.





Theater Latté Da extends Sondheim’s gruesome, gritty musical thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street



“Sweeney Todd cuts like a knife!”Star Tribune

“The runaway hit of this year’s season.” –MinnPost

“It's bloody great!”—St Paul Pioneer Press

 “One of the best productions to come down ye olde pike in a long while.”—How Was the Show

Stirring and chilling, it's nothing short of brilliant.”Cherry and Spoon


The critically acclaimed production features razor sharp talent, including Twin Cities powerhouse Sally Wingert in a thrilling turn as the resourceful pie shop proprietress Mrs. Lovett; local, award-winning, triple-threat Tyler Michaels as the unwitting Tobias Ragg; and announcing celebrated and charismatic theater, film and television actor Mark Benninghofen in the title role.


Performances continue through November 1 at the Ritz Theater in MN.

Tickets are on sale now at latteda.org or 612-339-3003.


(Minneapolis/St. Paul) Theater Latté Da today announced an extension and added performances of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s gruesome, gritty musical masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Theater Latté Da Artistic Director Peter Rothstein directs the critically-acclaimed musical with Denise Prosek as music director. The production—previously slated to close on Sunday, October 25—will now run through Sunday, November 1 at the Ritz Theater (345 13th Avenue NE in Minneapolis). Additional performances are scheduled for Sunday, October 18 at 7:00 PM; Saturday, October 24 at 2:00 PM; Sunday, October 25 at 7:00 PM; Wednesday, October 28 at 7:30 PM; Thursday, October 29 at 7:30; Friday, October 30 at 7:30;  Saturday, October 31 at 2:00 PM; Saturday, October 31 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, November 1 at 2:00 PM; and Sunday, November 1 at 7:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased online at latteda.org or by calling 612-339-3003.

Sweeney Todd is the story of an unjustly exiled barber who returns to 19th century London seeking vengeance. The road to revenge leads Todd to Mrs. Lovett, a resourceful proprietress of a failing pie shop. Together they plot a delicious plan with deadly consequences. The New York Daily News calls Sweeney Todd, “A work of such scope and vision and daring that it dwarfs every other Broadway musical that even attempts to invite comparison.”

Rothstein has assembled a bloody awesome cast. The critically acclaimed production features razor sharp talent, including Twin Cities powerhouse Sally Wingert in a thrilling turn as the resourceful pie shop proprietress Mrs. Lovett; local, award-winning, triple-threat Tyler Michaels as the unwitting Tobias Ragg; and announcing celebrated and charismatic theater, film and television actor Mark Benninghofen in the title role.

Benninghofen, Michaels and Wingert are joined by Ben Dutcher (Theater Latté Da: Master Class) in the role of Fogg; Elizabeth Hawkinson in the role of Johanna; Sara Ochs (Theater Latté Da: Our Town) in the role of Beggar Woman; Jim Ramlet (Theater Latté Da: OLIVER!) in the role of Judge Turpin; Matt Rubbelke in the role of Anthony; Evan Tyler Wilson in the role of Pirelli; and Dom Wooten in the role of Beadle Bamford.

Theater Latté Da is an award-winning Twin Cities musical theater company that combines music and story to illuminate the breadth and depth of the human experience. The company seeks to create new connections between story, music, artists and audience by exploring and expanding the art of musical theater.  latteda.org


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

A Musical Thriller


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

From an Adaptation by Christopher Bond

Directed by Peter Rothstein

Music Direction by Denise Prosek


Performance Dates: Now through Sunday, November 1, 2015

Venue: Ritz Theater (345 13th Avenue NE Minneapolis, MN)

Stephen Sondheim’s bloody, worldwide success, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is the story of an unjustly exiled barber who returns to 19th century London seeking vengeance. The road to revenge leads Todd to Mrs. Lovett, a resourceful proprietress of a failing pie shop. Together they plot a delicious plan with deadly consequences. Don’t miss this tasty, thrilling, theatrical treat that has simultaneously shocked and delighted audiences across the world. Winner of eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, Sweeney Todd is Sondheim at his very best.


Remaining Performance Dates and Times:

Wednesday, October 7 at 7:30 PM

Thursday, October 8 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Friday, October 9 at 7:30 PM

Saturday, October 10 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, October 11 at 2:00 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Wednesday, October 14 at 7:30 PM

Thursday, October 15 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Friday, October 16 at 7:30 PM

Saturday, October 17 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, October 18 at 2:00 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Sunday, October 18 at 7:00 PM

Wednesday, October 21 at 7:30 PM

Thursday, October 22 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Friday, October 23 at 7:30 PM

Saturday, October 24 at 2:00 PM

Saturday, October 24 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, October 25 at 2:00 PM

Sunday, October 25 at 7:00 PM

Wednesday, October 28 at 7:30 PM

Thursday, October 29 at 7:30 PM

Friday, October 30 at 7:30 PM

Saturday, October 31 at 2:00 PM

Saturday, October 31 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, November 1 at 2:00 PM

Sunday, November 1 at 7:00 PM




Theater Latté Da’s 'Sweeney Todd': It's spectacular

Pamela EspelandMinnPost

September 29, 2015

Writing about Theater Latté Da’s latest, Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,”which opened Saturday at the Ritz, requires a big, overflowing bucket of superlatives.

It’s spectacular. It could easily be the runaway hit of this year’s season. Everyone involved – the cast, the musicians and the production team – seems to know they are creating something that people will talk about for years. The energy pours off the stage. Saturday’s audience went crazy.

The story in a soap mug: Benjamin Barker is a young London barber with a beautiful wife and infant daughter. Lusting after Barker’s wife, a corrupt judge assaults her and sends Barker into exile for life. After 15 years, Barker escapes and returns to London as Sweeney Todd, hell-bent on revenge. He meets Mrs. Lovett, a poor pie maker who remembers him as Barker and has held on to his sterling-silver razors all this time. The two end up in business together. He shaves faces and slashes throats; she uses the fresh meat to create savory pies. He awaits his chance to shave the judge. Things end badly for almost everyone.

Under Peter Rothstein’s unerring direction,Mark Benninghofen is simply great as the demon barber of Fleet Street – menacing, ruthless, obsessed – plus he can really sing. Sally Wingert is perfection as Mrs. Lovett, utterly amoral and hopelessly in love with Sweeney Todd in a complex performance layered with subtleties. Tyler Michaels is splendid as simple-minded Tobias Ragg, limping his way across the stage, singing “Not While I’m Around,” a song now used in weddings (which, brief digression, is kind of like Ronald Reagan using Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” as a campaign song).

Sarah Ochs is luminous in rags as the plaintive and crude beggar woman. James Ramlet is stentorian as Judge Turpin, source of Sweeney Todd’s sorrows, with a rumbling bass that rattles the Ritz’s rafters. One look at Dominique Wooten, who plays Beadle Bamford, and you’d think he’s a basso, too, but then he opens his mouth and out comes a gleaming falsetto.

As young lovers Anthony Hope and Johanna Barker, Matthew Rubbelke and Elizabeth Hawkinson carry off the challenging task of distracting us from the main attractions – vengeance, savagery and gore – and leave us with a shred of hope that maybe some people are good after all. Benjamin Dutcher is appropriately loathsome as Jonas Fogg, owner of an insane asylum, and Evan Tyler Wilson shines as Pirelli, whose time as Victorian London’s hippest barber is cut short by Sweeney Todd’s blade.

We often think back on Latté Da’s brilliant, stripped-down “La Bohème,” which lit up the tiny Loring Playhouse in 2005. It’s still our favorite “Bohème” of all time. In that production, a five-piece ensemble – piano, accordion, guitar, violin and woodwinds – did the work of an 80-piece orchestra. When “Sweeney Todd” opened on Broadway, it had a 26-piece pit orchestra. Latté Da’s production has just four musicians: music director Denise Prosek on piano, Carolyn Boulay on strings, Mark Henderson on woodwinds and Paul Hill on percussion. Not that we would ever suggest hiring fewer musicians, but no one makes do with less better than Latté Da.

And what about the Ritz, Latté Da’s new home? Seldom has a theater space seemed more naked, less pretentious and so much about the show – which sometimes spills over into the house, as actors make their way around the side bars, through the center and even into the small balconies. Kate Sutton-Johnson’s perverse playground of a set, complete with wobbly gangplank/bridge, slide, and blazing red oven, is there from the moment you enter; with no curtain, it almost lures you up to explore, do a little climbing and try the slide.

A special shout to sound designer and engineer Jacob Davis. The Ritz is a box with concrete block walls, yet Sondheim’s wonderful lyrics are crisp and clear, even when they’re coming at you a mile a minute and two or more people are singing at once. There were moments on Saturday when things got uncomfortably loud, with a few feedback squeals, but those minor glitches in a major production with lots of moving parts have likely been ironed out by now.

The opening – a blaring factory whistle — almost knocks you out of your seat. (Tip: If you’re holding a drink, set it down a moment or two before the play begins. Friday’s performance started promptly at 7:30.) With intermission, “Sweeney Todd” runs 2½ hours. Through Oct. 25.


Ed HuyckCity Pages

September 29, 2015

No, really. Get your tickets today. Hell, if you need to, call Peter Rothstein and demand that he get the cast together to put on the show on a day off. If you have any interest in musical theater, or just plain awesome acting, you have to see Theatre Latte Da's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Performed on a set that looks like a playground for the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre family, Latte Da's Sweeney Toddtakes us fully into the madhouse. It's fueled by a pair of unhinged performances from Sally Wingert as Mrs. Lovett and Mark Benninghofen as Sweeney Todd, the aggrieved barber who cuts a swath of bloody revenge across mid-19th-century London.

Neither Benninghofen nor Wingert is a classic musical-theater performer. Benninghofen, in fact, makes his musical debut here. What they may lack in smooth vocal chops they more than make up for in their rough and jagged performances.

At the play's beginning, Sweeney Todd returns to London after escaping from imprisonment in Australia. He was sent away on false charges by Judge Turpin, who is jealous of his wife and child. He is told that his wife is dead, and his daughter is now the ward of the same evil judge. He sets out to kill the judge and exact his revenge.

Things get complicated, however, and Sweeney has to work a longer game. This is not a problem, as he is also driven to transfer his hate to all of London. Now, no one who sits in his chair is safe from a sliced throat via his sharp razors.

And the bodies? Well, his confidant Mrs. Lovett has a pie shop, and there's no better way to jazz up the "worst pies in London" than with some fresh meat.

Hugh Wheeler's morbid and frightening book is a perfect complement to one of Stephen Sondheim's best set of songs, which display the composer's own senses of style and humor. Tossing a couple of inexperienced singers into the deep end was a daring call by director Rothstein, but one that pays off throughout. Benninghofen's rough-hewn singing voice carries the weight of Sweeney Todd's anger and rage better than a sweeter voice could. Mrs. Lovett is a crusty old bag who is every bit as evil as her barber friend, and Wingert carries that in every moment of her performance.

"A Little Priest," their Act One closing duet, remains a jolly tune about cannibalism that sends the audience bouncing out for intermission. The other moments that they share, either in scenes or songs, sharpen the unhealthy relationship that the lonely pair of characters forge during their murderous rampage.

There's plenty of strong support from the rest of the cast, including James Ramlet as Judge Turpin, the fluid-voiced Dominique Wooten as his right-hand man, Beadle Bamford, and Sara Ochs as the mysterious beggar woman who haunts this corner of Fleet Street. The ever present Tyler Michaels also gives another tremendous performance as Tobias Ragg, the somewhat dimwitted young man who becomes an unknowing accomplice to Todd and Lovett.

Rothstein and music director Denise Prosek (with major assists from the design team, led by Kate Sutton-Johnson's terrific set) have created a living, breathing world that completely ensnares you in a wild ride. And, like an amusement park roller coaster, once you're done you want to get back on and go through the ride all over again.

Theater Latte' Da's 'Sweeney Todd' cuts like a knife

Graydon RoyceStar Tribune

September 29, 2015

When the opening sound cue provokes spontaneous applause, one tends to sit up and take notice. So it was with the shrieking factory whistle that locked our heads and hearts into Theater Latté Da’s pulsing production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Peter Rothstein’s staging opened Saturday in the beautifully apt Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis.

That siren blast would punctuate the air many times as the man with the razor slashed his vengeful path through a London that had done him dirty. Rothstein has created a dark, dystopian world and music director Denise Prosek shows an unrelenting grasp of the idiosyncrasies of Stephen Sondheim’s score.

Scenic designer Kate Sutton-Johnson uses junk — corrugated tin, crumbled cinder blocks — and the bones of an old playground with the rope bridges, swing sets and monkey bars to convey a sense not only of decay but also a lost innocence. For once upon a time, the world was a happy place for Benjamin Barker, the naive barber who becomes Sweeney Todd.

Rothstein took a bit of a gamble on actor Mark Benninghofen in the lead role. This is his first musical — a bit like chewing off “King Lear” in your first Shakespeare. Benninghofen’s cadaverous glare, his swagger and the serrated edge of his voice convey a bitter soul who has turned heartbreak into vengeance. Benninghofen is an actor who sings, rather than a pure singer, so musical theater buffs might sniff. His singing is not effortless, though he makes notable impressions such as the ode to his razors, “My Friends.” Beyond that, Bennnghofen paints such a comprehensive picture through his voice and performance that he makes this a Sweeney worth seeing.

Benninghofen is matched in presence and command by Sally Wingert’s scratchy performance as Mrs. Lovett, the landlady who provides “Mr. T” — as she calls him — space for his lacerating barbershop. Wingert’s cackling Cockney sounds as if it has been fed through a meat grinder and the actor locates the frightened and devious heart of this frenetic character.

 Together, the two are slightly magic, producing the kind of evening in the theater that has you imagining yourself years from now, content that you caught this gig.

Rothstein surrounds these two ragtails with gorgeous singers. Tyler Michaels — you might have heard of him — is the stick-thin street urchin Tobias Ragg, who comforts Lovett with the sweet “Not While I’m Around.” Matthew Rubbelke was entrusted with the loveliest melody in the show, “Johanna,” and he reckons it a song of great longing and sadness. Dominique Wooten as Beadle and James Ramlet as the evil Judge Turpin (the man who sent Benjamin Barker to a penal colony) team up as an impeccable high and low combination of voices. Sara Ochs’ Beggar Woman and Elizabeth Hawkinson’s Johanna provide glittering work in the higher registers.

Rothstein wrote in program notes that “Sweeney Todd” is his favorite musical. He and his collaborators treat it as such with a show that grabs you at the outset and refuses to let go until the last whistle is blown.

Theater Latte Da's 'Sweeney Todd': It's bloody good

Chris HewittSt. Paul Pioneer Press September 27, 2015

A song title in "Sweeney Todd" also works as a review of Theater Latte Da's spectacular production: "God, That's Good!"

The most rousing song in the show, it's a comic number sung by delighted people who are unknowingly eating meat pies made with human flesh -- and that's a pretty good metaphor for the complexity of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's musical, which is funny while it's sad while it's terrifying while it's thrilling while it's revealing uncomfortable things about the people on stage and in the audience.

Peter Rothstein's meticulous production for Latte Da takes a traditional approach to the musical set in Victorian England, other than inserting a couple of anachronisms to remind us the inequities of the 1840s are still with us (I'd vote for a few more anachronisms to better establish that idea), but its outstanding cast and attention to detail make for a thrilling theatrical event.

Few experiences are more satisfying in the theater than for a production to show you new things in a show you know well, and that is one of the many pleasures of this "Sweeney Todd."

There's a lot going on in the show but the story is simple: Todd, imprisoned for 15 years for a crime he did not commit, returns to London to reclaim his wife and daughter, only to learn the wife is dead and the daughter is being held captive by the foul judge who sent Todd to jail. So Todd seeks revenge with the aid of Mrs. Lovett, a bawdy baker who has a crush on him and who stumbles upon the idea of using the victims of Todd's vengeance as the meat in her pies.

Let's start with the Mrs. Lovett of Sally Wingert, a monumental performance that theatergoers will be talking about for years to come.

The show may not be named after her, but Mrs. Lovett is the focal point of "Sweeney Todd," a comic character audiences are tempted to embrace -- even though she may be the most thoroughly rotten character because, unlike Todd, who kills out of madness and passion, she kills to get what she wants, in business and in romance.

The defining characteristic of Wingert's Mrs. Lovett is desperation. A woman of a certain age in a society that does not value her, she is used to being invisible -- that, I think is, why she wears one of the few flashes of color in this mostly black-and-white production, and trowels on lurid eye make-up that has gone beyond "smokey eye" to "sooty eye." Wingert locates the heartache behind that invisibility in "My Friends," which is sort of a duet with Todd except Todd is singing to his beloved knives, never once looking at Mrs. Lovett, begging him to love her and trying to force him to see her, reflected in those knives. Wingert's Lovett is uproariously funny but her need is so terrifyingly naked that, for the first time in many productions of "Sweeney Todd," I wondered if she might have had something to do with sending Todd to prison in the first place.

One reason Latte Da's production goes as far as it does in investigating the mysteries of "Sweeney Todd" is that it begins at a high level of intensity. There's no period of getting used to the title character in the musical's opening minutes; Mark Benninghofen has him at a fever pitch of anger from the get-go, to the extent that you may wonder if the production will be able to sustain that intensity, but Benninghofen's choice to have Todd become more reasonable as he gets crazier really works. Meanwhile, Rothstein's design team moves the show along so swiftly and the music, under the direction of Denise Prosek, is so expertly calibrated that the show never does let up.

There's too much good stuff in this juicy "Sweeney," which begins and ends with moments so precisely achieved that the opening-night audience clapped for both, to mention them all. But attention must be paid to: the chilling design of Todd's murders, the full choral sound of the 10-member cast, the powerful (maybe too powerful, since his character is a waif) singing of Tyler Michaels on "Not While I'm Around," the lyrical dignity in Sara Ochs' Beggar Woman and the seemingly casual way soprano Elizabeth Hawkinson negotiates the very tricky "Green Finch and Linnet Bird."

That song, about a trapped bird, functions as a metaphor for all the forgotten characters in "Sweeney Todd," all of whom could yearn, "If I cannot fly, let me sing." The beauty of this production is that it does both: It sings and it soars.

Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552 or follow him on twitter.com/ChrisHMovie.

What: "Sweeney Todd"

When: Through Oct. 25

Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.

Tickets: $45-$31, 612-339-3003 or theaterlatteda.com

Capsule: It's bloody great.

"Sweeney Todd" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Jill SchaferCherry and Spoon September 27, 2015

Friends, Theater Latte Da has done it again. They've created a music-theater production that is so stirring and chilling, it's nothing short of brilliant. After the delightfully innovative and stripped-down Into the Woods this spring, they return to Sondheim with a similarly innovative and stripped-down Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. But where Into the Woods was a fun and slightly sinister mish-mash of classic fairy tales, Sweeney is all darkness and death, albeit with a bit of dark humor. Director Peter Rothstein again cast just ten actors in the show, many playing multiple roles and all perfect for the parts, and Denise Prosek leads a pared down orchestra of just four, that still somehow sounds musically full on this gorgeous and disturbing score. With a couple of actors not known for their singing leading this talented cast, and a cohesive look to the set, costumes, and theater space that is well used, this Sweeney is completely engaging and all-consuming, and brilliantly shows what Latte Da can do with not musical theater, but theater musically.

Sweeney Todd is a tale of vengeance and murder, as Sweeney returns to London after 15 years imprisonment for a crime he didn't commit, only to find his wife and daughter gone thanks to the very judge who put him away. His barber business turns deadly as he becomes intent on exacting revenge on those who wronged him. His partner in crime Mrs. Lovett finds a creative way to dispose of the bodies at her pie shop and the two take in the boy Toby, who's just happy to have a home, until he discovers what's really going on. Meanwhile, the young sailor Anthony has fallen in love with Sweeney's daughter Johanna and he and Sweeney team up to get her away from the evil judge. This isn't a happily ever after kind of story so don't expect things to end well, but it's deliciously chilling to watch it all play out.

In Theater Latte Da's production, this sordid story takes place in what looks like a dilapidated carnival. The theme continues from the stage to the lobby of the theater, with slightly off-kilter carnival music playing and donuts sold at the concession stand. Scenic Designer Kate Sutton-Johnson (who also designed the German beer garden fairy tale world of Into the Woods) has built the most terrifying jungle gym you've ever seen on the Ritz Theater stage, complete with ladders, bridges, swings, and a very sinister (yet very cool) slide. The performance space moves beyond the stage as the cast makes great use of the space, wandering through the audience and hanging out with people sitting at the bars on either side. I was afraid they were going to start offering us meat pies (no thank you!). Along with Alice Fredrickson's faded and tattered costumes, and Paul Whitaker's effective lighting design, the whole think has a dark and creepy atmosphere that'll give you chills.

Music-theater (as Nautilus and I like to call it) is about character and story first, and music second (even Sondheim himself agrees). With that in mind it makes sense that Mark Benninghofen and Sally Wingert, two of the Twin Cities' best actors but not known for their singing, play the lead roles. Sally already showed us in Cabaret last year that singing is yet another tool in her vast acting toolbox, and her Mrs. Lovett is so funny, cunning, needy, and dangerously motherly. But this is Mark's first performance in a musical, and all I can say is - welcome to the wonderful world of music-theater Mr. Benninghofen, please stay a while! It's almost incomprehensible that someone would decide to do their first musical 30 years into their career, jump right into one of the most challenging and iconic roles, and do so with such aplomb that it seems like he's been performing in music-theater all his life. The entire cast is wonderful, but the show is called Sweeney Todd and it doesn't work without a strong Sweeney, and Mark is that and more. Fierce, ominous, darkly brooding, murderous yet sympathetic, and with a lovely voice too! Mark and Sally together are, as always, a delight to watch and sound like they've been singing Sondheim all their lives, not an easy trick.

And now for the rest of the cast, who areknown for their singing but are wonderful actors as well. I thought nothing could topTyler Michaels singing "On the Street Where You Live," but Tyler Michaels as Toby singing "Not While I'm Around" does just that, so soaring and beautiful and moving. And he brings his trademark physicality to the role of this eager limping young lad, and also climbs, jumps, and hangs on the set as a member of the ensemble. The lovely-voiced Sara Ochs is almost unrecognizable and terrifying as the beggar woman with a secret, and also portrays her humanity beneath the madness. James Ramlet makes the Judge a villain you love to hate, and the "Pretty Women" duet is a highlight featuring James' yummy low rumbling timbre on the "bum bum bum bum." Elizabeth Hawkinson's Johanna is delicately lovely, and she sings like a nightingale. Also wonderful are Matthew Rubbelke as Anthony, Dominique Wooten as Beadle (with a bit of humorous pounding on the piano), Evan Tyler Wilson as the pompous barber Pirelli, and Benjamin Dutcher in a number of roles.

If you're a fan of Sondheim, music-theater, or just a really well-told story, Theater Latte Da's gleefully maniacal Sweeney Todd is not to be missed. Everything is perfection, top to bottom. An incredible and fully committed cast, spot-on direction, gorgeous music, and attention paid to every detail (watch for Sweeney's entrance, repeated at the end) to create an all-around stunning production. Playing through October 25, get your tickets now before it sells out.


Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street by Theater Latté Da, performing at the Ritz Theater

John OliveHow Was The Show. com

September 26, 2015

Mark Benninghfen, who plays the eponymous character in Stephen Sondheim‘s giddy and brilliantly tuneful revenge fantasia, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (Theater Latté Da, performing at the Ritz Theater, through Oct 25) is a revelation: board stiff with anger and bloodlust, lean and angular, ready at any moment to explode into violence. A Susan Sontag flame of gray hair and burning dark eyes. Benninghofen frightened me; no mean feat this, given how jaded I’ve become in my somewhat advanced age.

And he sings, and sings well. This is, well, a revelation, given that Benninghoffen isn’t an actor one normally associates with musical comedy. His “My Friends,” a resonant paean to his hair splittingly sharp razors (he is a “demon barber,” after all) is lovely. And there is the beyond-brilliant act-ending duet “A Little Priest,” which Benninghofen performs with partner Sally Wingert (more on Ms. W in a moment). Yikes-fire.

In Sondheim’s  Sweeney Todd (written with bookist Hugh Wheeler in 1979) Todd carries a sailor’s knapsack into a seedy, scummy London. Great work here by the design team: Kate Sutton-Johnson (sets); Alice Frederickson (costumes); and Paul Whitacker (lights). He salivates with lust, to revenge himself on the corrupt Judge Turpin (beautiful work by JamesRamlet; what I wouldn’t give for a basso profundo voice like his; he makes Sam Elliott look squeaky) who fifteen years earlier destroyed Todd’s sainted family and transported him to Botany Bay on a trumped up charge. Todd teams up with the sweetly evil Mrs. Lovett (Wingert) and becomes the barber of death. “They went to their Maker impeccably shaved.” Yum.

Wingert is a perfect foil to Benninghofen: soft, with a mop of always falling into lovely disarray grey hair, exuding cruel sexuality and callousness. She and Todd decide to fry up Todd’s victims – “You know me, bright ideas always popping into me head.” – into highly saleable meat pies. A dynasty built on vitriol and hate is born. Wingert compels and charms and repels. Yum, once again.

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (directed by the always terrific Peter Rothstein) is one of the best productions to come down ye olde pike in a long while. It features many many marvelous performances. Too many to mention in the short time allotted to me. However, I do have tout the work of  the wonderful Tyler Michaels, who sings (beautifully) “Not While I’m Around.” He also gets to… Well, never mind. See Michaels while you can, before some evil Broadway producer snatches him away from us.

Apologies to everyone else. You’re outstanding.

Definitely recommended.

Mark Benninghofen sharpens singing voice for Theater Latté Da's 'Sweeney Todd'

Mark Benninghofen sharpens singing voice for Theater Latté Da's 'Sweeney Todd'By Graydon Royce The Star Tribune

September 25, 2015

Razor-sharp actor Mark Benninghofen takes on “Sweeney Todd,” his first musical.

This is Mark Benninghofen’s stage.

At the end of a long hallway in the Minneapolis Lumber Exchange building, Benninghofen welcomes a visitor to Shout Creative — his voice-over and advertising business. The whole operation is in an office so small that Benninghofen can’t wheel his big executive chair through the narrow aisle so he can get out from behind his “banker’s desk.”

No, problem. He hoists the chair — one of those big, comfy commander models — and carries it to a patch of open floor next to this reporter. He flashes a big, toothy smile and signals he’s ready — ready to put on the Mark Benninghofen show.

And it is a great show. Over 90 minutes, Benninghofen will drop names like confetti, dish juicy off-the-record gossip, quote chunks of Shakespeare, jump up to mimic the characters that populate his shaggy dog stories about growing up outside Chicago, bombing at his first musical tryout in New York, doing television in L.A., working with Tony Kushner and sitting nervously in the Ritz Theater lobby in Minneapolis waiting to hear how his audition went for the epic title role of “Sweeney Todd.”

Spoiler alert on that last one: They liked him and Benninghofen will perform his first musical theater role in Theater Latté Da’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” that opens Saturday.

 Sweeney Todd? Nothing like jumping into the deep end of the pool.

“This is a real step-up moment for me,” he said. “ ‘Sweeney Todd’ is a play that is sung, that’s how I look at it. If I can get through the singing, I know I can tell the story.”

On stage, Benninghofen has a natural, roguish charm and a busy, kinetic energy — meticulous and studied in gesture and posture. His voice is supple, yet in its natural timbre it cuts like a steak knife.

He’s no different on his small stage of real life.

“Ronnie Wood!” he growls with his best Irish accent. “You walk out of the dressing room and there’s Ronnie Wood! And he’s saying, ‘Come here, mate.’ And he grabs you and says ‘That was [expletive] awesome.’ ”

Benninghofen wheels his chair over and sticks his mug in your face, marveling that the Rolling Stones guitarist came to a performance of Irish classic “Juno and the Paycock” at the Guthrie when the band was in town in June. He jumps from his chair and measures Wood with a hand at his shoulder.

“He’s just this little guy, but there he is, it’s him. He was over the moon.”

Benninghofen sits back down and grabs your elbow — he’s a master of the little touch on the knee, the tap on the thigh, the grab on the elbow as though these are stage directions, for emphasis.

“You just don’t think you’re going to meet a Rolling Stone.”

Rolling with the punches

Benninghofen tasted early success in New York and came to Minneapolis for the tail end of the Liviu Ciulei era at the Guthrie in 1984. He got good notices but Garland Wright called him in shortly after becoming artistic director in 1985.

“I remember, I sat there and he looked at me. He was so mystical,” Benninghofen said, putting his hand on his chin and holding an index finger alongside his nose in a classic Garland pose. “And he just said, ‘Hmmmmm, no.’ ”

So the young actor had to make his bread in other places and caught the attention of radio advertising genius Craig Wiese.

“In those days, if Craig stamped you on the forehead and said you were good, you worked,” he said.

This began a lucrative career in commercial work and the formation of Shout Creative, which is wedged cheek by jowl into Audio Ruckus recording studio. He’s done well.

Benninghofen stretched his horizons to Los Angeles and in the late 1990s he scored a regular role in “Movie Stars,” a sitcom on the WB network starring Harry Hamlin and Jennifer Grant (“Cary Grant’s daughter,” he reminds you).

It was a lot of fun, he said, but the show only lasted a couple of years and in 2000, he and his wife, Jill, started shifting back to Minneapolis, where they had kept their home. Raising a family here appealed more than “the flats of Burbank.”

‘Tyrone’ was his ticket back

Benninghofen says it was “Tyrone and Ralph,” a play by Jeffrey Hatcher about Guthrie and Rapson, that revived his Twin Cities stage career in 2008.

Joe Dowling caught the show, at the History Theatre in St. Paul, and two weeks after closing, Benninghofen sent an e-mail to John Miller-Stephany, Dowling’s associate.

“It just said, ‘Can I come play at your house?’ ” Benninghofen recalls.

He was asked to audition for what would be a high-profile project: a new Tony Kushner play, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism With a Key to the Scriptures.”

Benninghofen stands and imitates Dowling — for whom he has sincere great affection — walking to the table on the first day of the project.

“Joe goes over and flips open his folder and says, ‘Where’s my [expletive] script?’ ” Benninghofen said, now able to laugh at the surreal occasion.

Kushner, of course, had no script at that time.

“He had a finger painting of a play in his mind,” Benninghofen said. “That first day, we had a four-hour conversation about dockworkers, Red Hook, lesbians, capitalism.”

The play famously opened a week late at the Guthrie in the spring of 2008, with Kushner rewriting furiously up through previews.

“It was a terrifying adventure but it energized the place,” said Benninghofen, who portrayed the estranged husband of a character played by actor Linda Emond, a Kushner confidante.

There were loud whispers in the local theater community at the time that members of the New York entourage didn’t treat the local actors very well. Benninghofen won’t tell anything on the record but he did say the experience taught him a lesson: “If you’re ever working in a play with other ‘people,’ you have to find a level playing field.”

Actor Sally Wingert, who plays Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” said Benninghofen practices what he preaches.

“There’s not a speck of diva about him,” Wingert said. “He goes out of his way to get to know everybody.”

Since “The Intelligent Homosexual,” Benninghofen has kept busy at the Guthrie (“Appomattox,” “Born Yesterday,” “Juno”), Park Square (“Shooting Star” with Wingert), tiny Dark and Stormy Productions and recently in the film “The Public Domain.”

He often plays drunks (“I love playing drunks and apparently I’m good at it”) and for the film he had to play a dissipated ad executive caught in a compromising position, in bra and panties, with a mistress.

“I asked [director] Pat Coyle, ‘Does he have to be this bad?’ ” Benninghofen said, laughing at the memory. “There’s just no good way to shoot that scene. You get into your bra and panties and … ”

Early ‘Sweeney’ fan

Benninghofen and his mother saw Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in the Broadway production and after he picked his chin up out of his lap, he bought a cassette and played it and played it.

In fact, he and Jill had “Nothing’s Going to Harm You” performed at their wedding, 19 years ago.

It makes sense, then, that Benninghofen sent Wingert a note when he read in the paper that she was going to play Mrs. Lovett in Latté Da’s production. Wingert told him to call director Peter Rothstein.

“He said ‘I’ve never done a musical audition,’ so I set up some time for him to work alone with Denise [Prosek, music director],” Rothstein said. “It’s not surprising that he’s got great tone. He knows his instrument and he has the top and the bottom of the register.”

Rothstein believes that the Stephen Sondheim classic has great malleability. His cast has a range of voices, from operatic to young and cultured to penetrating.

“It’s not going to be an operatic ‘Sweeney,’ ” Rothstein said. “It’s been done in many styles.”

Wingert sounds confident of Benninghofen’s ability to sing the role.

“He has got lungs the size of Texas,” she said. “He’s got all of that skill set. When we were growing up, you got funneled into straight plays or musicals. We went straight plays.”

Benninghofen certainly knows he will need to sing, a challenge that scares and excites him.

He also knows, though, that he must understand the character and toward the end of our interview, he leans his head back in his chair and recites inspiration from the misshapen Gloucester, who will become Richard III. A midlevel administrator ruined Sweeney Todd’s life, robbed him of joy and softness and good. So, too, Richard confronted his fate:

“And am I then a man to be beloved? O monstrous fault to harbor such a thought.”

Benninghofen goes on to quote the entire speech — from Henry VI, Part 3 — savoring the words of Richard’s cold determination to destroy everything in his path.

He didn’t miss a word.

What a performance.

What makes a show like 'Sweeney Todd' worth staging again and again?

What makes a show like 'Sweeney Todd' worth staging again and again?By Chris Hewitt The Pioneer Press

September 24, 2015

For director Peter Rothstein, there are two main reasons to revisit frequently performed shows.

"Certain pieces feel like they come off the shelf because of what's happening in the world now, because they resonate in a new way. And there are also pieces that are masterworks, that are just brilliant and a part of our cultural heritage. I think 'Sweeney Todd' is one of those. It's one of the great American masterpieces," says Rothstein, whose Theater Latte Da production of that Stephen Sondheim musical -- which has been presented at least four times in the past 16 years in the Twin Cities -- opens Saturday.

Agreed, on both counts, and yet I can relate to folks who may have seen earlier productions of "Sweeney Todd" -- including the original Broadway production with Angela Lansbury, which is available on DVD -- and who wonder if any subsequent production could recapture its power and emotional heft.

What I've learned from seeing several "Sweeneys" is that maybe no production will do that, but the show is so rich that there's plenty more to discover.

Ten years ago, I nervously attended a Broadway production of "Sweeney" that starred Patti LuPone in what I'll always think of as the Lansbury part, Mrs. Lovett (I saw her in it in Chicago in the early '80s).

But I was blown away by the chilling production's stripped-down take on the show and by LuPone's vastly different performance, which was sexy and manipulative in comparison to Lansbury's daffier, music hall-influenced version.

Rothstein has wanted to produce "Sweeney Todd" with Sally Wingert as the pie-making Mrs. Lovett "forever." It's finally happening this year because he was able to assemble the group of artists he wanted and because he figured out how to pull off a smaller-scale version of the epic show. Instead of an orchestra and a cast of 30, Latte Da's production will have a small band and most of its 10 actors, led by Wingert, Mark Benninghofen and Tyler Michaels, will play multiple roles.

It's an approach that paid big dividends earlier this year with the company's inventive, up-close take on the oft-produced "Into the Woods." And, crucially, it's an approach that is not just dictated by economics but also by creative concerns.

"Because I love the psychology of these characters, I wanted to do 'Sweeney Todd' in an intimate way. We've seen it in big houses, so I wanted to figure out how to do it in an intimate space," says Rothstein, who's producing it at Minneapolis' Ritz Theater.

Perhaps best known for the shaky movie version that starred Johnny Depp in the title role, "Sweeney Todd" is the Victorian-era tale of a barber who returns to London after being wrongly imprisoned, only to discover that his wife is dead and his daughter has become the ward of a lascivious judge. Todd plots revenge with the help of his razor blades and neighboring Mrs. Lovett, who finds gruesome use for Todd's many victims.

"As a director, it's all so delicious," Rothstein says. "It's this horror movie. It's a musical. It's a comedy. It's Shakespearean in its tragedy. It's a melodrama. I feel like you have all of these styles and somehow you have to make them work as a whole."

Like Latte Da's production of "Oliver" earlier this year, "Sweeney Todd" takes place among society's most unfortunate: "I was interested in the idea of deserted spaces, places where squatters live. All of the characters are the dregs of society and very few of them have a piece of the world they can call their own."

Although Rothstein places "Sweeney Todd" in the "masterpiece" category of shows that always will be worth revisiting, it also fits with his notion of a show that is especially intriguing because of the way it speaks to us today. Latte Da's "Sweeney Todd," in fact, will begin in the here and now and then flash back to the 19th century, establishing that in many ways the present is not so different from the past.

That sort of updating or re-setting of a show is a popular way to breathe new life into a familiar play, whether it's the Guthrie's Roaring '20s-set "Twelfth Night" or Mu Performing Arts' Asian-influenced "Into the Woods."

Sometimes, a bold new take on a piece can make it feel brand-new. Rothstein mentions vivid memories of a 1994 Broadway production of the little-known play "An Inspector Calls," in which a wild set and stylized performances gave the 50-year-old play urgency and timelessness. Similarly, an intense, off-Broadway production of "Our Town" a couple of seasons ago preserved the setting of Thornton Wilder's classic but so completely stripped one of my favorite plays of its sentiment and nostalgia that I'll never think of it the same way again.

Rothstein cites the Broadway re-imagining of "Cabaret" as a production that also shaped his thoughts about a treasured musical (one that he directed for Latte Da in 2014, in a production that featured Wingert and Michaels).

"Sam Mendes' re-imagining of 'Cabaret' had a huge impact on me as a director," says Rothstein, adding that those ideas have been reflected in his approach to the work he does for Latte Da, which he co-founded, and elsewhere.

"Great works are about more than one thing and they can speak to a wide range of audiences over different time frames," says Rothstein. "If the ideas are big enough and, at the same time, there are psychologically complex characters in the piece, great actors will always be able to bring new insight to the people and to the play."

Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552. Follow him on twitter.com/ChrisHMovie.


What: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

When: Through Oct. 25

Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. N.E., Mpls.

Tickets: $45-$31, 612-339-3003 or theaterlatteda.com

Veteran Actor Mark Benninghofen Makes Musical Debut as Sweeney Todd

Veteran Actor Mark Benninghofen Makes Musical Debut as Sweeney ToddBy Ed Huyck City Pages

September 24, 2015


fter an intense season that included a key role in Juno and the Paycock, Mark Benninghofen was ready for a break. Things didn’t go exactly according to plan.

“I was sitting on my deck one morning and saw that Theatre Latte Da had announced Sweeney Todd as part of their new season. Then I saw that Sally Wingert was in the cast. I thought maybe I could throw my hat into the ring,” Benninghofen says.

The actor has been a fan of the Stephen Sondheim musical since he saw the final preview of it on Broadway in 1979. He’s had numerous copies of the album, and even had the song “Nothing Is Going to Harm You” featured at his wedding.

Then again, Benninghofen had never sung onstage. Still, he went through the audition, and was pleased that he got through the experience. He was called back to work with director Peter Rothstein, music director Denise Prosek, and Wingert. “We fiddled around with it until it sounded good. I thought it was possible that something would happen,” he says.

This is the 54-year-old actor's first role in a musical. That has led to plenty of challenges and additional work. “I came in early to pick up the libretto and the score. They gave me 400 pages of music.”

Both Benninghofen and Wingert worked with Prosek to learn the parts of Sweeney Todd and his partner-in-crime, Mrs. Lovett. "[Prosek] recorded all of our songs so we could listen to them and learn them. Sally and I for the most part got caught up before the other eight actors, who are all singing actors, showed up,” he says. “I had some things to unlearn. Over the years, I had learned some of the notes incorrectly, but I am just thrilled to be singing this character.”

The songs are only part of Sweeney Todd. The blood-soaked tale is about a barber driven mad by betrayal and thoughts of revenge. He cuts a literal swath through mid-19th-century London, murdering his clients as he works to get at the judge who wronged him. All the while, Mrs. Lovett is there to hide the evidence by baking the remains into her suddenly popular meat pies.

In addition to driving viewers to contemplate vegetarianism, Sweeney Todd also closely examines the severely broken and flawed lead character. At the point Sweeney Todd decides to go on his murderous rampage, “there is such a freedom and a celebration in his craziness. The harder part is the earlier levels of brooding,” Benninghofen says.

While the character has seeped into Benninghofen’s psyche (“I had a dream last night that woke me up cold. It was definitely a result of living in this world”) he tries to keep it away from home. “When I get home, my boys are just normal kids. You just want to go home and throw a ball with them,” he says.

Sweeney Todd is a theater staple. What drives audiences to embrace this madman?

“So many of us are frustrated by the things that we are promised will be changed and they aren’t because of corruption or just bald-faced lying. There is something very alluring watching a guy go for broke and swing for the moon. He is the Richard III of Fleet Street. He is so devastated by what was taken away from him that he is willing to go down on this one. There is something freeing about watching someone do that. We know that at some level it would be carnally satisfying,” Benninghofen says.


Sweeney Todd Through October 25 Ritz Theater 345 13th Ave. NE., Minneapolis $35-$45 For tickets and more information, call 612-339-3003 or visit online.

Top cast set for Latté Da's 'Sweeney Todd'

August 26, 2015 By Pamela Espeland MinnPost

As we sat in the Park Square Theatre in April, watching Mark Benninghofen and Sally Wingert play two former lovers snowed in at an airport in Steven Dietz’s “Shooting Star,” we never once looked at Benninghofen and thought, “Now there’sthe next demon barber of Fleet Street.”

Last December, when we saw him in Dark & Stormy’s production of Pinter’s “The Hot House,” we didn’t wonder, “But can he sing?”

He is, and apparently he can. Announced Monday by Theatre Latté Da, Benninghofen will join Wingert (once again) and Tyler Michaels in Latté Da’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” opening Sept. 23 at the Ritz.

What a sweet cast. Benninghofen, most recently in “Juno and the Paycock,”Joe Dowling’s final play at the Guthrie. Wingert, who can play anyone (her Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” was indelible), as Mrs. Lovett, pie-shop proprietress. The amazing Michaels, who made us forget Joel Gray when he took the role of emcee in “Cabaret,” then zoomed from there to Freddy in “My Fair Lady” and Puck in “Midsummer” the Guthrie and earlier this summer wrapped “Peter Pan” at the Children’s Theatre.

Benninghofen said in a statement, “I have never performed in a musical. I have always separated myself immediately from actors with the remarkable skills needed for musicals. But I saw the final preview of the original ‘Sweeney Todd’ on Broadway with Len Cariou in 1979. ... blew my mind. Since then ‘Sweeney Todd’ has been the only musical that calls to me as an actor.”

With Peter Rothstein directing, and Latté Da settling into the Ritz, this seems like a natural top pick for fall. In previews Sept. 23-25, opening night Sept. 26, ends Oct. 25. FMI and tickets ($31-$45).

Mark Benninghofen will play lead in Latte Da's "Sweeney"

August 21, 2015 By Graydon Royce Star Tribune

Actor Mark Benninghofen will perform the title role in Theater Latte Da’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which opens Sept. 26 at the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis.

Artistic director Peter Rothstein said over coffee Friday that he chose the longtime Guthrie favorite to play alongside Sally Wingert’s Mrs. Lovett andTyler Michaels’ Tobias Ragg. Rothstein will direct the production with music direction from Denise Prosek, his longtime associate at Latte Da.

Benninghofen is known principally for dramatic portrayals. He played Joxer Daly in Joe Dowling’s recently concluded staging of “Juno and the Paycock”at the Guthrie. He was Gen. U.S. Grant in “Appomattox” also at the Guthrie.  He and Wingert performed “Shooting Star” at Park Square this past April.

In another memorable performance, Benninghofen played architect Ralph Rapson in Jeffrey Hatcher’s excellent 2008 play “Tyrone and Ralph,”about the Guthrie founder and the man who designed the theater’s original building.

Benninghofen also appears in Patrick Coyle's film, "The Public Domain,"which was just re-released.

Rothstein said Benninghofen inquired about the role and came in for a tryout with Prosek. The director liked the actor’s voice well enough (“the role is a big sing,” Rothstein said) and there has never been any question about Benninghofen’s ability to play gritty, unseemly characters. “Sweeney” is, after all, a guy who slits throats and makes meat pies of his victims.

Rothstein said the Stephen Sondheim piece is perhaps his favorite musical theater work. The Latte Da production runs to Oct. 25 at the Ritz. Info and season packages are at theaterlatteda.com

Single tickets for “Sweeney” go on sale on Monday, Aug. 24.