Eighth in a series of Broadway reports
NEW YORK — Beginning with director Harold Prince’s 1979 original, every “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” I’ve seen has been boldly different, bloody yet beguiling, and essentially stellar and memorable entertainment.
The latest, one of the best, stars Josh Groban as Todd and Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett, is currently playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway. Directed by Thomas Kail (of “Hamiton”), it pairs two powerful, operatic-range voices, whose solos and duets elevate the Stephen Sondheim score, and heightens the ecstasy of the warped tale of a 19th century manic barber in London who’s a literal cut-throat who partners with a piemaker whose mincemeat pastry is the ultimate dessert.
The original, starring Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, is the grandest of all, with a catwalk as part of the mammoth staging and an impressive barbershop with the requisite chair. The latest is midway in proportion and size, and the minimalist version of all featured the cast (of nine) doubling as musicians. Yep, I even remember Patti LuPone as Lovett, and she had to toot a tuba!
Annleigh Ashford is Mrs. Lovett and Josh Groban is Sweeney Todd.
The current “Todd” is appropriately shadowy and dark, mysterious and maddening, with soaring voices that brighten the experience. More than 80 per cent is sung, thus “Todd” is rightfully operatic in staging and delivery. And no denying, Tony nominee Groban is box office gold, in his second Broadway endeavor; the first was 2016’s immersive “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” where he also was wow and received a Tony nom.
Todd is vindictive and seeks revenge on Judge Turpin (Jamie Jackson) who got him imprisoned for 15 years and has issues with the judge’s rape of Todd’s wife and seizure of his daughter Johanna (Maria Bilbao).
Hawaii’s Ruthie Ann Miles is the Beggar Woman, nominated for a Tony.
This “Sweeney” also has an island tie: Ruthie Ann Miles, a Tony winner for her featured role in the musical, “The King and I,” is playing a secondary role, the Beggar Woman, and was nominated for a Tony in June. In her shaggy black costume and her curious notions, Miles’ Beggar Woman oozes mystery and fascination with outbursts as “Mischief! Mischief Mischief!” and questioning laments during tunes like “Johanna.” She might be shrill, but never still in her vox populi opinions.
Gaten Matarazzo, left, as the urchin Tobias, earns cheers.
And TV fans will relish the presence of “Stranger Things” star Gaten Matarazzo (as the street urchin, Tobias). He earned a few hearthrob cheers from fans.
Sondheim’s melodies and lyrics are generally challenging for actors; his tunes are not the easiest to master or perform, with lyrics that have their own rhymes. Thus breakout hits are few from a Sondheim soundtrack. However, “Johanna,” sung by the Anthony Hope character (played by Daniel Yearwood) is haunting and beautiful, with relevance outside of the play. Hope is smitten with Johanna, the ward of Judge Turpin, and the tune’s mood-shaping grace finds a place in both Acts 1 and 2.
For the squeamish, a cautionary note: There are repeating scenes of the barber’s razor, slashing throats of victims. These acts are relevant to the story, and that’s why “Sweeney Todd” is bloody good. …
And that’s Show Biz. …
‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
‘“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” is a musical by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics), with book by Hugh Wheeler, adapted by Christopher Bond, directed by Thomas Kail, choreographed by Steven Hoggett
Playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway