“For me, this is a personal thing because it’s a show Marshall and I always wanted to do together. When it’s all said and done, it will be a tribute to him.”
Those are the words of Stephanie Murray, co-star and co-producer of the Island Time and Vashon Repertory Theatre’s (VRT) February production of “Sweeney Todd,” now in rehearsals and set for a run from Feb. 16 to 26, at Vashon Center for the Arts.
In the show, Stephanie will play the malevolent Mrs. Lovett, to Bradley J. Thomas’ portrayal of the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” in what some say was Stephen Sondheim’s most magnificent musical.
It’s the leading role that Stephanie’s late husband, Marshall Murray, always wanted to play, and Stephanie said that having Thomas play Todd makes the production even more special, since he was Marshall’s best friend.
Thomas knew Marshall well and shared the stage with him in high school and college productions. And when a personal tragedy befell Thomas, it was Marshall who pulled him back onstage.
“I lost my mother in 1999 and that stalled my early career, until Marshall asked me to join him in a show he was producing,” said Thomas.
They were inseparable after that, acting together in shows including a stories production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Stephanie joined the “act” when the three worked together in a Portland, Oregon production of “Tapestry.”
Marshall and Stephanie married in 2006, and Brad moved to Kansas City in 2007.
The Murrays moved to Vashon shortly thereafter and quickly became two of the brightest stars in the consetllation of Vashon’s vibrant theater scene, igniting the stage together in Drama Dock’s production of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Into the Woods,” “Noises Off,” “Side by Side by Sondheim,” and many other shows.
Many islanders believed that Marshall’s portrayal of Billy Flynn in Drama Dock’s “Chicago” rivaled any on Broadway or elsewhere — his talent for physical comedy, drama and song quickly made him an island legend. He died tragically, and too soon, in early 2021.
Stephanie invited Thomas to sing at Marshall’s celebration of life, where he caught the eye — and ear — of Vashon Rep’s Theatre’s producing artistic director, Charlotte Tiencken, who cast him in VRT’s 2021 production of “The Exonerated.”
Prior to Marshall’s death, Tiencken and Stephanie had been considering the possibility of producing “Sweeney Todd,” with Marshall in the lead role. After his death, that possibility was revived as they recognized Thomas had the acting and singing chops to play Sweeney, with Stephanie in the Mrs. Lovett role.
Thomas, who still makes his living as a professional actor, is commuting from Kansas City to do the role on Vashon.
Stephanie has now created Island Time Productions, the co-presenter of “Sweeney Todd” on Vashon.
The show’s cast includes many who have performed with Stephanie and Marshall on Vashon productions in the past — and understand how much this production is a tribute to the memory of Marshall’s immense talent.
These actors include Max Lopuszynski, in the sinister role of The Beadle, who counts some of his fondest theatrical memories in his previous shows on Vashon stages with Marshall and Stephanie. These shows included the 2018 Drama Dock show, “Noises Off,” where Lopuszynski and Marshall engaged in hilariously intricate physical comedy together.
Another performer, Arlette Moody, in the role of the Beggar Woman, shared the stage with Marshall and Stephanie in Drama Dock’s 2016 high-octane production of “Chicago.”
Other faces in the cast, familiar to island theater-goers attending “Sweeney Todd,” will include Miles Wingett, Hailey Quackenbush, Chris Boscia, Matt Wilson, Amy Cole, Erika Strandberg, and Indigo Alton.
Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” is famously about obsession, revenge and perversion, but the backstory of the production is very different: it is one of joyful creation, spawned in deep and lasting friendship. “Knowing that this was a role Marshall wanted to play makes me just hope I do it justice,” said Thomas. “I’m thankful for Stephanie and her creation of Island Time Productions. It means a lot to be part of Island Time — including the wild and crazy Frankenfurter spirit of Marshall. He was a brother to me, and I want to take up the mantle of joy that he found in theater. That’s really all that matters.”
To find out more about “Sweeney Todd” and purchase tickets, visit vashoncenterfor thearts.org.