Jonathan Winsby is ready to be baked into a pie come Oct. 12.
This Halloween season, Winsby will be playing the part of rival barber Aldolfo Pirelli in a production of the macabre musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
“It’s very fun,” Winsby, 39, said about playing the flamboyant barber who challenges Sweeney’s identity in the play. “What’s so brilliant about him is that he’s a dark character himself … but you get the chance to be comedic.
“Those are the kinds of characters that are great to play, when you’re not just one note. You get a chance to be a bunch of different things.”
Winsby knows that from experience, having performed in musicals and plays in Vancouver, Toronto and on Broadway. It’s a big change from his childhood as a jock, growing up in North Delta as a student in the area’s Catholic schools.
“I always knew I liked performing, I just never had an outlet for it,” Winsby explained. “It wasn’t something that I explored in high school at all, so I didn’t know that was something I could do.”
Winsby’s father Sandy was an actor as well, but following in his footsteps had never been Winsby’s plan. Instead, he had designs on becoming an elementary school teacher. But that plan was upset when then-17-year-old Winsby took part in an amateur production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, put on by Delta’s Immaculate Conception church.
“It was a lot of fun,” Winsby said about his roles at antagonist Potiphar and one of the many brothers. “When you do a show, a little community production like this, you can have a guy who’s 17 play what would technically be a 50-year-old, and it doesn’t matter because, who cares?”
From there, Winsby sought out like-minded theatre folk in university, and eventually began performing in productions in Vancouver and Toronto. He even made it to Broadway as part of the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
“It was nice to check that off the list and know it’s not the be-all-end-all,” Winsby said about performing on Broadway. “I still want to come home as opposed to stay at the pinnacle of theatre performance out there.”
Now, after years of travelling back and forth between Ontario and Vancouver, Winsby has decided to settle down in his home city, “hopefully forever.” His recent involvement in Sweeney Todd is an example of his commitment to the area, he said.
Sweeney Todd, put on by co-op theatre group The Snapshot Collective, has been a labour of love for the people involved, Winsby said. The cast has been working on the play evenings and weekends since the beginning of September and most aren’t sure if they are going to make any money from the production.
“It’s a co-op production, which means you more do it because of wanting to put together something really cool,” Winsby explained. “We love the idea and we love trying to enrich the theatre fabric here in town.”
The musical will be performed at 348 Water St. in Gastown — not a typical theatre space. The small, pop-up shop-style venue will fit between 50 and 60 people per show, and audience members can even purchase fresh meat and vegetarian pies with their admission.
“When you’re on a big stage … the audience is separate from you,” Winsby said. “You’re acting to the back row so everybody can see you.”
“In this type of venue, it’s almost like watching a close-up camera. They’re not going to miss a thing,” he continued. “That just means you can be more honest, you don’t have to be as performative, you don’t have to be as large.”
That style of acting has been a joy for Winsby.
“For most of us who are used to … performing in larger theatres, this is actually a real treat of rediscovering how you could be very subtle and still tell a powerful story. So I’m excited about that,” he said.
“Also, scaring the crap out of people is going to be really fun.”
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will be running Oct. 12 to 31 at “Miss Lovette’s Pie Shop” (348 Water St., Vancouver). Many show dates are completely or nearly sold out. For tickets, visit sweeneytoddthemusical.ca/tickets.