NZ Opera opens ‘Sweeney Todd’

It’s busy times like these that I actually wish I did drink coffee. Alas, my metaphorical ones continue…

I am now into my fifth week in New Zealand (my home country), playing the role of Tobias Ragg in New Zealand Opera’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which opened over the weekend. A co-production with Victorian Opera, this version directed by Stuart Maunder may be familiar to those that saw it in Melbourne last year.

Long story short, I am having the time of my life.

Long story long, here are some of the things I have experienced over the last few weeks:

Working for an Opera company is something I was quite tentative about. I very much feel like a fraud when my cast members around me talk about their experiences on all the incredible operas they’ve been a part of, while I can only smile and nod politely. Yet contrary to the belief that Opera produces divas, (which is stupid because divas unfortunately exist in every industry in the world), this cast and crew is one of the loveliest groups of people I’ve ever worked with. I think what really stands out to me is the incredible musicianship of everyone. Sondheim certainly doesn’t write ‘Easy Listening’ music, and Sweeney Todd may be one of his most complex pieces yet, but this cast managed to learn it incredibly quickly, with the Sopranos consistently smashing out those Top Z’s like nobody’s business. It only makes me grateful that I (mostly) listened in Derek Bond’s Music Skills and Aural classes at WAAPA.

With Stuart Maunder and Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the rehearsal room
With Stuart Maunder and Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the rehearsal room

While there are far fewer variations than I thought there’d be, here are a few differences I’ve learnt about the Opera and Music Theatre world:

  • In Opera, you ‘sing the role of…’ rather than ‘play or perform the role of…’ When I first got my offer via email, it took me a long time to decipher whether I was actually playing Tobias in this show, or whether I was just going to lend my voice to some Concert recording
  • You get a call to stage from the DSM during the show for all your entrances.
  • Instead of “chookas”, “toi toi toi” is the choice of phrase in Opera to wish a performer ‘good luck.’ Apparently it came from spitting over one’s shoulders… which makes just as much sense to me as using a phrase that derives from the word ‘chickens’

Apart from the fact that it is such a wonderfully written role in what may be one of the most brilliant musicals ever created, highlights of this process have included:

  • sweeney-crouchinThe exhilaration of only two weeks in the rehearsal studio, with us already running the show at the end of this period. Watching the incredible way in which Stuart allows his vision to come to life, and the admirable speed in which each of the cast can pick up this direction
  • Going back to my high school and being able to share my experiences in the professional world (and pretend I am a more interesting person than I am), to a new generation of performers
  • During a dress rehearsal at the start of ‘Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir’ where the ensemble is crowding around me, one of the ensemble ladies crossed the whole length of the stage just before her entire Victorian dress came undone and dropped straight to the ground, revealing her standing there in her underwear. If I was professional enough, I may have kept going. Instead, I just stopped singing because I was laughing too hard
  • Eating a pie every show. ‘Nuff said.
"Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd"
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd”

With such incredible material to start off with, a really fantastic cast and inspired production team means this process has definitely been one of the highlights of my career so far, and a production I am so grateful to be a part of.

For anyone that happens to be in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch from the 17 September – 15 October, tickets are available at:

Check out this great video from the production on the New Zealand news site NewsHub

Joel Granger

Born in the land of sheep and hobbits, Joel Granger moved to Australia to study at WAAPA's Music Theatre course, class of 2015. Currently playing the role of Elder McKinley in the Australian tour of 'The Book of Mormon' tour, his other stage and screen credits include 'She Loves Me', 'Brigadoon', 'Sweeney Todd', 'Please Like Me' and 'True Story with Hamish & Andy.' He would like to say he enjoys long walks on the beach, but his ginger hair and freckled skin means he actually avoids sunshine as much as possible. Follow Joel on instagram at: @joelgranger_

Joel Granger

2 thoughts on “NZ Opera opens ‘Sweeney Todd’

  • You are a smart clever talented and gorgeous human, who still looks cute stuffing a pie in his face every show! Gorgeous article. Xx

  • Great article mate! Wasn’t it fun doing Sweeney! Well done on a brilliant operatic debut. Let’s do it again some time. 🙂


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