attend the tale of sweeney todd: a quick chat with josh rowe

Josh Rowe is playing one of the most gruesome, most remorseless murderers in the history of musical theatre. Attend the tale of the man behind Ignatian’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

What led you to Sweeney Todd at Ignatians and what attracted you to this challenging role? 

I studied my Bachelor of music in Classical Performance from 2004 – 2008.  I began my professional career with Opera Queensland in 2006. I was also an Opera Queensland developing Artist in 2008, which was a wonderful opportunity to study a number of operatic roles under the guidance of industry greats such as Anna Sweeney (her name is purely coincidence) and Narelle French.  I had my solo debut with the company in the Male Ensemble of Richard Mills’ ‘Love of the Nightingale’ in 2007.  Sweeney Todd is my 40th production (my 13th professionally) since taking to the stage in 2001.

After my Bachelor of music, I had been working away in Western Australia’s North West for a few of years in Mining Construction and decided to return home to spend more time with my growing family. Within a few months of my return I found out on Facebook that Ignatians was auditioning for Sweeney. It seemed like the ideal segue back into singing.  As to the role itself… I have always known it to be one of the most challenging roles in music theatre: requiring solid musicianship and an emotional sensibility in order to portray this character as a human being going on an emotional journey rather than just a one dimensional murderous madman. This appealed to me.

Can you tell us about the audition process? How did you prepare? 

I am an Operatic Baritone primarily and this was my first musical theatre audition in over ten years.  Musical theatre is quite different from opera in that it is much more physical. Opera auditioning is mostly ‘Stand and Sing’. The Sweeney Todd rehearsal included a dance audition, some acting/stagecraft as well as the singing. Lauren, the movement/dance coach absolutely flogged us in audition. It was hilarious! I went home afterwards and slept for 12 hours.

You worked in the mines? Was there any drama attached to that job? Tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing when not on stage. 

Haha. There is an element of drama in any environment where humans are involved I guess.  When you’re, for example, working on a 200 tonne crane lifting a building module the size of an average two bedroom house into position on top of another building module 4 meters up in the air, its very dangerous and difficult work.  Tempers get frayed.  These days back in Brisbane the work isn’t so challenging. I specialise in restoring and renovating old Queenslanders.  It’s fairly casual work and I can fit it in with music and being a dad fairly successfully 

Do you get to see much theatre? What was the last show you saw? 

I have not been out to the theatre in a long time. There’s not a lot of theatre in the Pilbara. I think the last thing I saw was ‘Spem in Alium’ by Thomas Tallis, conducted by Emily Cox late last year.

Where do you chill out in Brisbane? 

Anywhere my family is. I have three beautiful boys, ranging from 16 all the way down to 20 months and another on the way. When we’re together we like to just watch movies and hang out. If we’re out in Brisbane the boys love to eat at ‘Sushi Train’. It’s always been one of our special things. My wife Emma and I also love to just jump in the car and drive. Anywhere.  Get lost and just find our way back. Just for fun.

Do you have any special talents that this show doesn’t uncover? You’re not a tap dancer or an aerialist too? 

Besides being a carpenter, a painter and hopefully a pretty good husband and dad? No! For my next project I will be singing the bass solo for ‘A Sea symphony’ by Vaughan Williams In association with Brisbane Chorale and Brisbane Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Emily Cox.

We’re expecting big things from the Ignatians design team, with regard to set and working pieces in order to make this show happen. We won’t be disappointed, will we? 

What an amazing set this is. The Ignatians team should be proud of what they have achieved. It’s a big, heaving, flowing set with lots of moving parts to excite the eye. I am personally looking forward to my ‘Big Reveal’ at the beginning of act one.  That’s all I will say on that. I don’t want to give it away.

Can you talk about working with John Peek, who has many new fans after bringing us Ignatian’s fabulous production of RENT

John and I began working together professionally in 2006 on the set of ‘Romeo and Juliette’ for Opera Queensland. Even then I could see he was a force to be reckoned with.  His strong stage presence and his understanding of the voice were an inspiration to me.  When I found out that John was heading towards more of a leadership role in his musical journey, I decided that one day I had to be directed by him.  Sweeney has been such a heavy emotional journey for me… As you know my mother has been very ill with cancer during this production. John has really helped me to push through my overwhelming sadness and find my voice through the tough times.

Can you tell us about your Mrs Lovett? What has it been like to work with Miranda on that odd relationship? 

Miranda is just wonderful. She has a fantastic voice, which is made for the role. Her fiery but down to earth nature, her understanding of comic timing and her background in dance make for a Lovett that leaps off the stage with vibrancy.  I am glad that my Lovett is such a consummate professional. It makes my job easy and our bond on stage real but exciting.

Is Sweeney Todd just a messed up killer of men or is there more to him? Did you have to find some empathy for him? If so, how did you do that? And why would we side with a murderer? 

There is always more to the story when good men turn bad and it’s amazing just how quickly deep passion can turn into hate and a desire for revenge. My question to you is what would you do to protect your family? If an evil person wanted to inflict harm on your husband, wife, father or child would you do everything you could to protect them? Would you want that person to pay for what they did? How far would you go to make them pay? These questions cause real emotions to well up in the best of us. As a husband and father, I know that it would take surprisingly little to engage my rage if my family was in trouble. What Sweeney does is not right, but I can understand how he got there.

It’s a gory show, lots of blood, Tim Burton’s film actually makes me physically ill; are we going to experience quite that much blood? I need to know so I can psyche up. 

There is not as much blood in this show. A lot of the staging is still quite confronting and not always easy to deal with emotionally, but not exactly a hack em up horror.

What else can we expect?

A great night out at the theatre!




Josh Rowe is Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


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