Erick Pinnick knew from an early age he loved music. But if it weren’t for Sweeney Todd, he may have never become a musical theater actor.
“I saw the Broadway production on PBS with Angela Lansbury and George Hearn back when I was in high school,” he recalls. “It was then that I literally thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
Decades later, Erick has come full circle. He’s the titular demon barber in Trinity Rep’s production of Sweeney Todd.
This isn’t Erick’s first time working with Trinity Rep. In fact, his history with the company and its members spans 20 years. In 2003, he played the radio announcer Bert Healy in Annie, and in 2014, he was Mr. Sowerberry/Dr. Grimwig in Oliver! which also featured Sweeney Todd performers Rachael Warren and Stephen Thorne.
In 2012, he appeared in the world premiere production of The Completely Fictional — Utterly True — Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe at Center Stage in Baltimore, written by Trinity Rep company member Stephen Thorne and directed by Trinity Rep Artistic Director Curt Columbus. For this production, Erick reunites with both — with Stephen portraying Judge Turpin and Curt directing.
“I’m especially happy to be going to Providence,” he tells us. “I feel like even though I’
‘ve only been there twice, it feels like an artistic home because of all the creativity and energy of the place. At Trinity Rep, it’s never a version of the show you’ve seen before, and I love that. There’s always an adventurous spirit, and Trinity treats all its material as if it’s the first time anybody’s ever done it.”
While he has never performed in Trinity Rep’s A Christmas Carol, he’s helped tell the iconic story elsewhere: as the Ghost of Christmas Present for several seasons at the Denver Center, and as Mr. Smythe in a Broadway production. Other favorite roles include Pontius Pilate in the European tour of Jesus Christ Superstar; Curtis in Prince Theater’s production of Dreamgirls; Mitch in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Pioneer Theatre); Doc Gibbs in Our Town (Peterborough Players); and Jake in Side Show (Gorilla Theatre). More recently, he’s appeared on television shows like Evil on CBS and The Blacklist on NBC.
He looks back on his role in Evil. “Ironically enough, we were shooting in a prison, and I was playing a priest!” he notes. “It was funny to think how in a few months I’d be singing about baking a priest into a pie. But working in that setting did give me the chance to think in that small, cramped space, in the mindset of Sweeney. If you’re there for years and all you could really do being contemplating revenge … It was an interesting character study for me.”
Erick believes that every actor brings their own life history to the roles they play, and Sweeney Todd is no exception. He recalls the real-life isolation people felt early in the pandemic during lockdown, saying the experience “drove us all a little mad.” Imagining Sweeney going through something similar, albeit for a much longer time period and different reasons, helped him get into the character’s mindset. Erick also says his history as a person of color brought a different insight to a role where you’re sentenced for a crime you didn’t commit. One line in particular that stands out to him is at the beginning of the play when Sweeney tells Anthony (played by another Black actor, Taavon Gamble), “Life has been kind to you … you will learn.”
But what may be Erick’s favorite thing about Sweeney Todd is the music. He says the variety of songs, from upbeat and comedic to dramatic and haunting, allows him to embrace all aspects of his character.
“It’s literally a dream come true to play Sweeney Todd,” he says. “It’s such an iconic role, up there with Mama Rose (Gypsy) and Jean Valjean (Les Miserables). It is one of those roles that you hope you get the chance in your life to tackle at least once.”