Attend the tale of “Sweeney Todd” — on the scale at which it deserves to be seen and heard.
Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical thriller, in which an ordinary 19th century barber descends into murder and madness in his quest for revenge upon those who wronged him and his family, is a gory and glorious concoction of over-the-top melodrama, English music hall, horror movies, opera, black comedy, social criticism and breaking of the fourth wall.
It can be staged and interpreted in many different ways, ranging from Hal Prince’s supersized original 1979 production (which was built around an iron foundry) to a downsized 2005 Broadway revival (where the cast doubled as the orchestra) to an even more scaled-down 2017 environmental Off-Broadway revival (which was built around the gimmick of a working pie shop).
That being said, to present “Sweeney Todd” at its best — at its most satisfying, mesmerizing, and sweeping — there is really no substitute for having Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations and a full scenic design with special effects (including a barber chair that doubles as a slide down to a bake house oven) in order to fully convey the action-packed, multi-location storytelling.
With that in mind, the large-scale new Broadway revival, directed by Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”) and starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett respectively and featuring a 26-person orchestra, marks (at least in my opinion) the most powerful staging of the musical to play New York since the original Broadway production.
I am not saying that the production is perfect. Some of the supporting performances are underwhelming (including Jordan Fisher’s Anthony and Maria Bilbao’s Johanna) and Steven Hoggett’s stylized, ritualistic choreography is questionable. Nevertheless, this is a fully transporting, invigorating, deliriously enjoyable production.
Groban, an unlikely casting choice for Sweeney, emphasizes the character’s guilt and pained humanity – the somber man behind the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” As expected, his singing is rich and robust. Ashford brings all of her comic ingenuity into her quirky and sexualized performance as Mrs. Lovett. Other standouts include Gaten Matarazzo’s bright and tenderhearted Tobias, Ruthie Ann Miles’ unusually observant and tough Beggar Woman, and Nicholas Christopher’s ostentatious Pirelli.
So, how about a starry full-orchestra revival of “A Little Night Music” next?
“Sweeney Todd” runs at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. 205 W. 46th St., sweeneytoddbroadway.com.