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Rediscovering Sweeney Todd: The Highlights and Insights of the Broadway Revival

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Broadway – a name that resonates with magic, story-telling, and the promise of unforgettable nights. The 2022-2023 season is no exception, as it’s marked by a wave of hit Broadway revivals. These shows not only brought timeless classics back to the stage but also reinterpreted them for a new generation. Among the list was the much-anticipated return of Stephen Sondheim’s macabre masterpiece, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The show first slashed its way onto Broadway in 1979, haunting audiences with its signature blend of horror, humor, and heart. The tale of a vengeful barber and his grisly alliance with pie-shop owner Mrs. Lovett immediately struck a chord, winning eight Tony Awards®, including Best Musical. Over the years, the show has been revived numerous times, each version revealing new depths and dimensions to this darkly delightful tale.


The History of Sweeney Todd


The Demon Barber first took Broadway by storm in 1979. The original production, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, was an adaptation of the 1970 play by Christopher Bond. The production was an instant success. With Angela Lansbury's iconic performance as Mrs. Lovett and Len Cariou's haunting portrayal of the titular character, the original Sweeney Todd set the bar high for future productions.


Over the years, Sweeney Todd has seen numerous productions across the globe, each adding a unique flavor to the already rich narrative of the tale. The 1989 London revival was noted for its intimate, more stripped-down approach, while the 2005 Broadway revival starring Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris was lauded for its bold concept of having the actors double as the orchestra. In 2012, an off-Broadway production by the New York Philharmonic featured a star-studded cast that included Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel. The show's widespread appeal even led to a 2007 film adaptation directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

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The Current Revival


The latest revival of Sweeney Todd made its grand entrance on Broadway in 2023. The anticipation was palpable as the doors of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre opened to welcome audiences.


A production team headed by director Thomas Kail (Hamilton) was the driving force behind this revival. Kail, renowned for his innovative approach to theatre, brought his unique creative vision to the project. Joining Kail was a stellar cast led by the formidable Josh Groban as Sweeney Todd and the enchanting Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett. Both seasoned Broadway performers, Groban and Ashford give riveting performances, bringing a fresh depth to their iconic characters.


One of the most distinctive features of this revival is the 26-piece orchestra. This allows the hauntingly beautiful score to be experienced in its full glory, adding an extra layer of intensity to the show.

The Storyline


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street weaves a chilling tale set in 19th-century London. The plot revolves around Benjamin Barker, a barber unjustly imprisoned by a corrupt judge who covets his wife. Fifteen years later, Barker returns to London under the alias Sweeney Todd, hell-bent on executing revenge. He forms a ghastly partnership with Mrs. Lovett, the proprietor of a failing pie shop, who suggests using his victims as a secret ingredient for her meat pies. The result is a darkly humorous narrative filled with suspense, horror, and heartbreak.


The characters in Sweeney Todd are complex and captivating. Sweeney Todd himself is a deeply tormented character. Once a loving husband and father, his unjust imprisonment transforms him into a vengeful murderer. Groban’s portrayal of Todd is both terrifying and empathetic, highlighting the character's tragic fall from grace.


Mrs. Lovett, played by the brilliant Annaleigh Ashford, is a practical and opportunistic woman who harbors a secret love for Todd. Ashford infuses the role with a perfect blend of humor, warmth, and sinister intent, making her character equally fascinating and intimidating.


The supporting cast, including Gaten Matarazzo, Daniel Yearwood, and Maria Bilbao, further enriches the narrative, each undergoing significant character development as the plot unfolds. The character of Tobias, in particular, evolves from an innocent, naive boy to a traumatized young man, providing a poignant counterpoint to the grim proceedings.


Highlights of the Revival


The revival of the production is a cornucopia of standout performances and innovative interpretations. Groban gives a chilling portrayal of Sweeney Todd that reviewers have called “unusual yet stirring.” His performance brilliantly captures the character's simmering rage and deep-seated grief. Meanwhile, Ashford, as Mrs. Lovett, is equally captivating, infusing her character with a delightful mix of eccentricity, humor, and eerie cheerfulness that has become known as a staple of the character.


The 2023 revival of "Sweeney Todd" truly pays homage to Stephen Sondheim's original vision, amplifying the piece to its intended epic scale and fully showcasing its Broadway splendor.

The impressive set, designed by Mimi Lien, is an imposing and flexible representation of a dreadful docklands environment, brilliantly illuminated by Natasha Katz's sculptural lighting. Katz's lighting effects are particularly noteworthy, with silvery beams piercing the darkness like a set of gleaming knives, adding an expressionistic quality to the production.


Stephen Hoggett's choreography plays a more central role than in previous productions, introducing disquieting, expressionist movements that add to the unsettling atmosphere. The choreography suggests the extreme effort required to maintain one's composure in such a dark world, a concept that was uniquely and powerfully portrayed through movements such as extreme leaning, rat-like huddling, and abdominal contractions resembling retching.


Emilio Sosa's costumes are another noteworthy addition, tracing Mrs. Lovett's rise in society through a visual graph of changing attire. The music, played by a robust 27-piece orchestra, is another standout feature. The music ultimately proves to be both full and glorious, enhancing the opulent, blood-soaked atmosphere of the revival. These innovative changes and additions to the script and score were instrumental in creating a Sweeney Todd revival that was both bold and refreshingly original.


The audience response has been overwhelmingly positive, with many praising the performances, innovative staging, and the refreshing take on the familiar story. Critics, too, lauded the revival. The Guardian called it a “haunting, horrible and thrilling" story, while Variety praised the “ravishingly sung, deeply emotional and strangely hilarious” revival. The revival’s success is reflected in its box office numbers as well, with the show enjoying a successful run and a number of sold-out performances.

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At the helm of the production team is director Thomas Kail, who brought his unique vision and innovative approach to the revival. In an interview, Kail shared that his primary objective was to “do it at scale with that original form of orchestration” to stay true to the essence of the original while also resonating with a modern audience.


In terms of relevance, the revival of Sweeney Todd holds a mirror to some of the darker aspects of our society, exploring themes of revenge, corruption, and moral ambiguity that remain as pertinent today as they were during the show's debut. The success of the revival underscores the enduring appeal of Sweeney Todd. It demonstrates the power of innovative storytelling and the timeless allure of Sondheim's masterpieces. Above all, it is a testament to the unmatched ambiance of Broadway - a place where even the darkest tales can captivate, entertain, and provoke thought in ways that stay with the audience long after the curtain falls.


Practical Information for Viewers


For families and groups planning to experience the grandeur of this Broadway revival, there are several ticketing options available. Group bookings are particularly encouraged, with discounts available for larger parties, 10+ people. It's worth noting that due to the show's dark themes and occasional grisly moments, it may not be suitable for younger children. We advise considering the show's content when planning a family visit.


Stepping into the world of Sweeney Todd is more than just attending a musical; it's immersing oneself in a unique theatrical experience. From the moment you step into the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, you become part of Sweeney Todd's darkly fascinating universe. This summer, don't miss the chance to witness the revival of this Broadway classic. Be it the stunning performances, the innovative staging, or the hauntingly beautiful score, there's something in Sweeney Todd to make it worth your while. So, gather your friends, book your tickets, and prepare for an unforgettable trip to Fleet Street this summer.