She left the frenetic stages of New York City for an idyllic life in The Villages – but Brynn Neal can’t kick the acting bug.
“I’m in the bucket list time of my life and I still love theater. I want to be a part of it,” Neal, 68, said. “Theater is something that is within you. You can’t just stop doing it.”
She found her way back onstage in The Villages.
Last year, Neal nearly stole the show as Frau Blucher in a local production of “Young Frankenstein.” Now, she will play the pivotal role of Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd…” The KC Productions musical drama will be presented Oct. 14-16 at Savannah Center.
Neal also landed a major role in The Villages Musical Theater Company’s “South Pacific” next March. She plays Bloody Mary.
Neal’s burgeoning, local acting career is no surprise. She grew up in the Chicago area and cut her acting chops at Bradley University. Neal also worked in Philadelphia and spent two decades in New York, often appearing in off-Broadway productions. She was part of the national tour of “State Fair,” with singer John Davidson.
“I played opposite John; it was a great experience and a lot of fun,” she said.
Her current days are filled with intense rehearsals and preparation for Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Sondheim wrote the music, with the book by Hugh Wheeler.
This darkly funny and somewhat gruesome story was originally a play by Christopher Bond. Sondheim called his version a “black operetta” and it’s kind of a satiric slasher musical.
The local production features Alex Santoriello, who also directs, in the title role. Also appearing are: Clark Barrios, Tim Casey, Tony Brown, Mary Jo Vitale, Dawn DiNome, Timothy Stewart and Dan Pona.
You might say that Mrs. Lovett is the straw that stirs the knife. She is a business partner and confidant with Sweeney Todd. Lovett, with some help from Sweeney, bakes meat pies and cuts strange deals.
Angela Lansbury played the role of Mrs. Lovett in the original Broadway production and earned a Tony Award. Others associated with the role include Patti LuPone, Essie Davis and Helena Bonham Carter, who played it in Tim Burton’s 2007 movie.
Brynn Neal is determined to bring a personal, unique style to Mrs. Lovett.
“I don’t watch how everyone else does a role,” she said. “I prefer to make it my own.”
It’s an acting test.
“Mrs. Lovett is an extremely challenging character,” Neal said, adding that much of the dialogue is in musical form, as an operetta.
“The singing is very demanding,” she added, using such adjectives as dissonant and weird to describe some of the vocals.
“This is a dark story with comic overtones,” Neal said. “Mrs. Lovett can be very funny.”
More than that, the character often is in the center of the action.
“She’s the instigator,” Neal said. “She gets people to do whatever she wants, and she has few regrets.”
For Neal, it’s another opportunity to perform in The Villages. Off stage, she has a quiet demeanor, wearing black, horn-rim glasses, accentuated by silver hair and expressive, doe eyes.
The thing about Neal is, on stage, she is a crafty, funny and totally believable actress. She makes characters her own.
“She’s a real pro and she works hard,” Santoriello said. “Mrs. Lovett is actually the big role in this show. Sondheim wrote it with Angela Lansbury in mind.
“Brynn keeps working at it and she has to. It’s really tough music to learn and a million words. Brynn’s doing great.”
Regardless, Neal is happy to be a part of it.
“I’m just so happy living my life in such a beautiful place,” she said, adding “and doing what I love.”
Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.