With the flash of a razor and a smatter of blood the actors composing Pepperdine’s production of “Sweeny Todd” conquer the stage during rehearsal in all their shining gory. But instead of rehearsing lines in preparation to appear on stage junior David McKee tackles the imaginative role of makeup artist.
“I always try to make each show a big deal McKee said. It’s great that the departments are so specialized so I can really focus on making the makeup great. It’s just one detail that can make a big difference.”
His upcoming “big deal” is the musical “Sweeney Todd which will hit the Smothers Theatre stage right before Thanksgiving.
Considering the dark content of the play, it’s a shock we’re even doing it — the themes are revenge murder cannibalism — but it’s funny because it’s outrageous. It’s a dark comedy said McKee. Sweeney Todd” is the tale of a barber who in order to seek revenge on the man who stole his wife begins murdering his customers whose flesh is later used as meat in the pies of an unsuccessful pie shop owner. How economical! Everybody wins!”
McKee said that the Pepperdine adaptation unlike the recent movie starring Johnny Depp is “not Tim Burton’s version but much more like the play and much funnier. The film didn’t explore the humor as much.”
The upcoming production of Sweeney Todd promises to be an exciting dark and humorous ride and unlike most acts the university has had grace its stage previously. And McKee’s makeup design is a key element to taking the play to its time period and magnifying its darker thematic elements.
Unlike Burton’s version this production won’t be dumping buckets of fake blood left and right.
“If it were completely up to me the first two rows would be splash zones McKee said. But this version isn’t going to be too gory. We’re making a very artistic version of the play.”That’s where this artist’s expertise comes in.
When designing and sketching his ideas for the makeup design McKee said his “creative liberty really depends on the show. The one thing that’s consistent is I need to work with the actor. Nothing can be inhibiting them. They have to be comfortable that it fits their character.”
That means he doesn’t hold anything back on his designs however.
“I get to play a lot and then they always have someone who will edit which I think is a good thing he said. Ultimately for ‘Sweeney Todd’ I have to be realistic but I usually like to go more fantastical. So I’ll need to edit my designs.”
Helping him edit is Carol Hack who teaches costume design and makeup classes at Pepperdine. She directs the costume and makeup designs for the Pepperdine’s Fine Arts Department productions.
“I’m always collaborating with Carol. You don’t want costumes to clash with makeup McKee said.
Together, the two share their ideas and create an overall look for each of the characters.
I’ve even helped her designed costume pieces before McKee said.
The day of a show, McKee can be found running around backstage making sure everyone’s fine.”
Since actors are usually called into the theatre only an hour and a half to two hours before the show many of the cast members are taught to do their makeup themselves as time is limited.
McKee’s job is to help performers when they need it and make sure everything runs smoothly at the makeup counters in the dressing room.
He loves the performances because he enjoys more than just the design aspect of his job; he also loves the community that forms in each production.
“With every show I’m back there getting them ready every night he said. They’ve already formed a community amongst themselves the actors; but the night of the show I’m able to bond with the cast and be a comfort to them — it’s a lot of fun.”
The rest of the Pepperdine community will have to wait until the show opens to discover what designs McKee dreamed up. “Sweeney Todd” opens Nov. 12 and closes Nov. 15. Tickets can be ordered by calling (310) 506-4522.