Still deciding whether he plays a bloodthirsty villain or a vengeful victim, a young actor from West New York is handling the lead role in a major production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Kevin Melendez, as Sweeney Todd, will be slashing throats all while longing for his missing wife and child on stage at the Victoria Theater at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark for nine performances, starting on Friday, July 17 at 7:30 p.m. and ending on Sunday, July 26 at 2 p.m. Show dates and times vary; tickets start at $16. For more information, call (888) 466-5722.
The story started as an urban legend, said Melendez, that became the basis for a series of novels in the mid-19th century depicting a barber who kills the wealthy to steal their loot and gives up the bodies to the next door baker, Mrs. Lovett, for her rather popular meat pies.
“I am not a crazy maniac, so I have to make up a lot of this as I go along.” – Kevin Melendez
While it is really up to the audience to decide who Sweeney Todd is, said Melendez, he enjoys the challenge of portraying both the good and the bad in the character.
“I am not a crazy maniac,” said Melendez, “so, I have to make up a lot of this as I go along. I have to justify, myself, why it is Sweeney Todd does what he does. And walking that path, figuring out who this man is, making myself relate to this man, is one of the joys of acting.”
Finding the balance by taking it to the extreme during rehearsals and pulling back as the director wishes, said Melendez, has made the actor see another side in all human beings.
“I always considered myself as a very calm and reserved person, but when you start to tap into those feelings regularly, you notice it in you and the people around you,” he said.
Unlike many other entertainers, Melendez said he hadn’t dreamed of being on stage since he was a child. Instead, he was inspired as a teenager at Memorial High School.
“In high school, I had no intention of being an actor at all,” said Melendez. “I walked in my freshman year wanting to be a computer engineer; that was all I wanted to do.”
When he discovered the girl he liked was joining drama club, Melendez decided he would too, but he would handle the technical elements, the lights and camera, not so much the action.
When it came time for auditions, Melendez held back while other kids competed for parts, but then thought, he could do it, too.
“I went up on stage, but I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Melendez. “I had never sung before. I had no experience whatsoever.” Despite the initial uncertainty, Melendez was cast in the production.
“Ever since that moment,” he said, “I have been bitten by the acting bug.”
Melendez has now appeared in eight theater productions and recently received high accolades for his performance as John Adams in the New Jersey Youth Theatre production of “1776.” Now entering his senior year as a theater performance major at Rowan University, in Glassboro, N.J.,
Melendez said he would be happy pursuing an acting career in Hollywood or Manhattan, or maybe even both.
“I would have an apartment in New York and a house in L.A. and the ability to travel between them,” said Melendez.
But, no matter where he ends up, said Melendez, success is not going to come easy.
“It is not glamorous,” he said. “Your business is you, essentially, and it is a lot of beating the pavement, giving people your headshots, and hoping something sticks.”
Amanda Staab can be reached at email@example.com.