Andrew Cummings is consistently praised for his rich, flexible baritone, heart-wrenching expressiveness, and dramatic intensity. Andrew is thrilled to be back with Pittsburgh Festival Opera in the production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, starring in the title role. Andrew lives with his son in Riverdale, NY, and is a student of Arthur Levy.
Photo by Cat Aceto
Were there any challenges you faced while learning the role of Sweeney Todd?
Yes… Sweeney is a dark character in a dark show, but to just be ‘dark’ is not compelling. Beneath the gore of slit throats and egregious and outrageous misdeeds (done to and by Sweeney) is a story about real people in an unthinkable circumstance… and how human nature, sadly, leads to choice after choice that only compound the misery. So, my challenge has been to find the HUMAN who is Sweeney… while still embracing the obvious horror of the man that he has become.
What sort of character research did you have to do?
Most of the character research was personal work… thinking, reflecting, feeling, and trying things. With the amazing resource that YouTube and the internet affords us nowadays, it was, of course, hard not to poke around and ‘see other takes’ on the character, staging, singing style, and more. But in the end… the most compelling product comes from personal work: Finding the things in ourselves that are or relate to the character.
Do you relate to the character at all?
Who hasn’t been fundamentally wronged in some way at some time? Who hasn’t been betrayed? Yes… I can absolutely relate to the different directions that betrayal and abandonment can lead us. And, sadly… I can relate to losing someone whom you have built your life around, as I lost my wife to breast cancer in ’14.
What are some of Sweeney’s strengths and weaknesses?
Sweeney is a make-it-happen kind of guy. When he gets an idea into his head, he becomes singularly focused on bringing it to fruition. Sadly, this same strength bites him in the hind end, as he’s so focused on his revenge that he is unable to see his wife and child in front of him for the entire show. Think of it… the FIRST person he sees—and casts away as he leaves the Good Ship Bountiful—is his wife… his beloved Lucy.
Sweeney with the Beggar Woman (Lesley Baird). Photo by Patti Brahim
What’s your favorite place to visit in Pittsburgh?
I have grown to really love Pittsburgh and feel it as a sort-of second home. There are several spots that I have enjoyed for several reasons, but two recent highlights are: 1) The Bayernhof Museum. The old music machines, and all the stories told about them as well as their eccentric collector were fun and memorable. 2) The Pub Chip Shop—where we did our first PR shoot—has AMAZING meat pies and hand-made doughnuts… that EVERYONE should try while here!
What are you planning to do next once the show closes?
First, I plan to go on a good long trip around the US with my 6 year old son… who has missed his dad a lot during the past few months which have been incredibly busy. We plan to visit family in Maine, Rhode Island, and finally out in Portland, OR. I have a few things in the works for the Fall including a Beethoven 9th, a reading of Verdi’s Macbeth, and exploring the role of Emile in Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (contract not yet confirmed). In the Spring, I’m excited to revisit Elijah.
Sweeney shaving Judge Turpin (Adam Cioffari). Photo by Patti Brahim