The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is officially back on Broadway in a new revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd that opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre March 26. The starry new production is led by Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, respectively, with Tony-winning Hamilton director Thomas Kail at the helm. See how the revival fared with critics here.
On the Broadway star-packed red carpet, Playbill drew from the grand history of Sondheim's "A Little Priest" to find out what the cast and creative team of this new revival think they would taste like as meat pies. Find out their answers below—no gore, we promise!
Stephen Sondheim, who wrote Sweeney's music and lyrics, was on the mind for many on opening night. This revival is the first Broadway production of a Sondheim musical the late composer-lyricist didn't get to see—he passed away November 26, 2021. According to director Kail, that loss came just as this production was in its earliest stages.
"We started our first little reading 36 hours after he passed, and I never got a chance to talk to him about [the production]," Kail told us on the red carpet. "He knew that Josh [Groban] was doing this. He was very excited about that. He knew that Annaleigh was going to join us. We felt him in the room from that first moment, and we have every step of the way."
Music director Alex Lacamoire hopes their work is a fitting tribute to the Broadway icon. "My hope is that we honored his work in the best way that we knew how. All I know is that I love this show so much, and my hope is that my love for it and my affection for the piece shines through all the work we did."
The production is, of course, a revival—but it's not just any revival. It's a new production of a bonafide Broadway juggernaut, a musical that many consider to be the masterpiece of arguably Broadway's greatest-ever composer. Ashford spoke to standing on the shoulders of the legendary, Tony-winning women who have also played Mrs. Lovett, but knowing that all you really need is what's on the page. "Of course I am inspired by those who have come before me, the great Angela Lansbury and the magical Patti LuPone," she said. "But then I just go to the text, what's on the page, the same thing we do with Shakespeare and Chekhov."
In this current production, that text is backed up by a 26-piece orchestra playing Jonathan Tunick's epic original orchestration for the first time on Broadway since the 1979 original production. It's a treat for audiences, but according to John Rapson, who plays Beadle Bamford, the same is true for the cast. "I think the most memorable day for me was probably the sitzprobe [the first sing-through of the entire show with the full orchestra]," Rapson told us. "Being in that room with Jonathan Tunick, master orchestrator, and hearing the orchestra, all 26 of them, the first time they kicked off with 'The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.' It was goosebumps. It was tears. It was everything, a highlight of my career."
Even Groban gushed (Get it? Good, you got it.) about the Tony-winning musical, which tells a surprisingly macabre tale of a London barber who slits his customers' throats and then sends their bodies to his neighbor and accomplice Mrs. Lovett to become the main ingredient in her meat pies. "It's an outrageous story. On every level it's very dark. It's twisted. It's got great comedy, but it's got a lot of murder as well," Groban shared. "And yet the richness and depth [Sondheim] has put into the motivations of these characters... that's what allows people to feel something deeply when they see a show like this. The music makes you feel something. That can make it even scarier, because if you can find some thread of humanity in the people that you're watching doing terrible things, then it makes you question your own humanity. It makes you question everything. That's what great art can do, what great theatre can do."
And does that outrageous story—which takes place in Victorian London—have any messages for audiences in 2023? Lacamoire says yes. "I think in a time like now, where there's a lot of vitriol out there, there's a lot of negative energy, one of the messages I take away from the show is that the negative energy can downward spiral you into a circle that you can't get out of. So what does it mean to allow compassion to enter your life? What does it mean to not just be so hellbent on revenge? I think there's something to be learned in that today."
See photos from the red carpet arrivals in the gallery below:
Groban and Ashford share the stage with Jordan Fisher (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen) as Anthony, Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things) as Tobias, Tony Award winner and Olivier Award nominee Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I) as Beggar Woman, Maria Bilbao (On Your Feet!) as Johanna, Jamie Jackson (The Last Ship) as Judge Turpin, John Rapson (Les Misérables) as Beadle Bamford, and Nicholas Christopher (Hamilton) as Pirelli.
The ensemble includes Galyana Castillo, Jonathan Christopher, Taeler Cyrus, Timothy Hughes, Paul-Jordan Jansen, Alicia Kaori, Raymond J. Lee, Patricia Phillips, Samantha Pollino, Lexi Rabadi, Nathan Salstone, Kristie Dale Sanders, Stephen Tewksbury, Daniel Torres, Felix Torrez-Ponce, and DeLaney Westfall.
The original production, which debuted on Broadway in 1979, won eight 1980 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, along with Best Actor and Actress nods for original stars Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. The work has gone on to be regarded by many as one of Sondheim's masterpieces, with its epic, operatic scale letting it be equally at home on the musical theatre stage as it is at the opera house. The musical was revived on Broadway in 1989 and 2005, and Off-Broadway in 2017, all presenting the work on a smaller scale with dramatically smaller orchestrations. A film adaptation, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, was released in 2007.
The production features choreography by Steven Hoggett, scenic design by Mimi Lien, costume design by Emilio Sosa, lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Nevin Steinberg, special effects design by Jeremy Chernick, and wig, hair, and make-up design by J. Jared Janas. Casting is by The Telsey Office, and Baseline Theatrical's Nick Lugo and James Hickey serve as general managers. Cody Renard Richard is production stage manager.
Jeffrey Seller leads the producing team, which also includes Bob Boyett, Diana DiMenna & Plate Spinner Productions/Aaron Glick, Eastern Standard Time, Roy Furman, Thomas Kail, Jim Kierstead/Benjamin Leon IV, and Tourdforce Theatrical. Maggie Brohn and Andy Jones are executive producers.