By: Jaimz Dillman
'Tis the season for all things immersive! Bar experiences, trips down the rabbit hole, and, now musicals can be counted as shows where the audience not only watches the happenings, but is also placed amongst the actors and sets. New Generation Theatrical in Orlando, Florida has taken over event space The Mezz with a sold-out run of SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET directed by Kenny Howard, with associate director Katie Dumoulin. Ticket levels ranged from student/industry to VIP table seating, and an additional offering of a pre-show $30 add-on to enjoy a glass of mead and one of Mrs. Lovett's meat pies (though thankfully these are beef, chicken, or vegetable).
Not a bad showing for their premier season in an unconventional venue. Producer Aaron Safer said, "We've taken this opportunity to reintroduce New Generation Theatrical after the pandemic.The Mezz is an underutilized space. I was inspired by the production in New York on Barrow Street with Norm Lewis so I wanted to bring it here. This space is incredible with lights and sound already here. And we get to splash blood on people every night. It's great!" The performance itself was overall enjoyable, despite some sound issues, and lack of the possible "splash zone" hinted at in marketing materials. Half the fun of seeing a production like Sweeney Todd is the gore factor, and it just wasn't there at my showing.
Speaking of the space - there were some drawbacks, namely the site lines. As action happens between two sets, audience members in the industry and student section (noted on the website as partial view) were unfortunately set behind one of the room's two large columns. We happened to have seats here for the first half, and missed quite a bit of the scenes that happened beyond the column. Plus, the band was playing (beautifully, I may add) directly behind us. A bit more volume on the mics and a monitor with a feed of the hidden stage for those of us missing the action would be a suggested fix. Stellar turn outs from several of the ensemble include Becky Fisher's Mrs. Lovett with impeccable voice and sly turn of phrase. Understudies David Bracamonte as Judge Turpin, Laela Rodriguez as Toby, and Edwin Perez in the role of Anthony were all so lovely it was hard to imagine what the difference would be otherwise. In my opinion, and experience, Sweeney should be a haunted, broken man full of vengeance and rage. While Alexander Mrazek vocally delivered Sweeney's songs beautifully, it wasn't until late in the second half did we see any of that rage or were made to feel any compassion that made us care about his strife. "They sounded fantastic, and the cast was amazing. I just think the show and the cast were hindered by the space," said another patron with viewing issues, Eric Bridges.
Images c/o New Generation Theatrical
"Some really stand-out voices and stand-out roles - the Beggar Woman (Kamryn Burton) was my favorite," said attendee Gabriella Juliet. "And the casting was great! All shapes, sizes, and colors!" That is something Safer said is a main goal for the company, "We're looking forward to supporting workers and artists providing a safe, accessible and inviting environment." And it was refreshing to see a variety amidst the cast. After all, the mission statement of New Generation Theatrical is Accessible. Inclusive. and Unique. However, those less theater savvy, and who did not already know the plot line, it may be a little confusing when one character is portrayed by two different actresses, and one of them also plays another lead role.
Having a properly paying production company in town is huge for those who've relied on theme park work and community theater for so many years to just get a chance to perform. The Central Florida talent pool definitely knows the phrase "starving artist." With NGT offering a $20/hr minimum wage, workman's comp covering everyone, at-home rehearsal pay, and working directly with Actor's Equity to cast those in the union, I'm excited to see where this group is headed. For far too long the amount and level of talent in the area has been taken advantage of, and this new crop of actual paying production companies we're starting to see gives real hope for an affordable wage. Maybe then we won't lose so many who end up leaving for more profitable pastures to practice their art and make ends meet. Stay tuned to upcoming NGT shows, including Gothic Manor, Closer, and Heathers - The Musical benefit concert. For more information about New Generation Theatrical, and to buy tickets, visit www.newgentheatrical.org.