Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway

Sweeney Todd opened tonight, Sunday, March 26th.

By: Mar. 26, 2023
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Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Tony and Grammy-nominated multi-platinum recording artist Josh Groban and Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford, returns to Broadway tonight, March 26. The revival is directed by Thomas Kail, and featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Hugh Wheeler, from an adaptation by Christopher Bond, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

See what the critics had to say below!

Joining Groban as Sweeney Todd and Ashford as Mrs. Lovett are Jordan Fisher (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen) as Anthony, Gaten Matarazzo ("Stranger Things") as Tobias, Tony Award winner and Laurence 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, Nicholas Christopher (Hamilton) as Pirelli / Standby for Sweeney Todd, and Jeanna de Waal (Diana, The Musical) as Standby for Mrs. Lovett and Beggar Woman.

For the first time since 1980, Broadway audiences will experience Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning score as it was performed in the original production-with Jonathan Tunick's original 26-player orchestration on an epic scale. Tony Award-winning director Thomas Kail (Hamilton) helms the return of this musical thriller starring Tony and Grammy nominee Josh Groban (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) as Sweeney Todd, and Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford (Sunday in the Park with George, Kinky Boots) as Mrs. Lovett.

The original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd was the winner of eight 1980 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, and Best Direction for Hal Prince. Its London premiere won the 1980 Olivier Award for Best Musical.

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's landmark musical, from an adaptation by Christopher Bond, tells the tale of a resourceful pie shop owner and a vengeful barber out for blood. After he's sent away by a corrupt judge, Sweeney returns to London years later seeking his long-lost family, and forms an unlikely partnership with Mrs. Lovett, who serves up pies underneath his former shop. Together, they wreak havoc on Fleet Street and serve up the hottest - and most unsettling - pies in London.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Jesse Green, New York Times: Now comes a new special on the menu: the ravishingly sung, deeply emotional and strangely hilarious “Sweeney” revival that opened on Sunday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. Starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford, and directed by Thomas Kail, it has a rictus on its face and a scar in its heart.  

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Charles Isherwood, The Wall Street Journal: With his boyish good looks, and despite a burly beard,Mr. Groban appears young for the role, looking scarcely older than Anthony ( Jordan Fisher), the sailor who rescued Sweeney when their ship heading to England foundered. More problematically, Mr. Groban has not yet reached deeply enough into the tortured soul of the character, who was separated from his wife and daughter when the corrupt Judge Turpin (Jamie Jackson) had him transported. Returned at last, the former Benjamin Barker, now Sweeney Todd, takes up his erstwhile job as a barber, and is soon dispatching any available victims with his razor, abiding until he can lure his nemesis into his fatal tonsorial parlor.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Naveen Kumar, Variety: Groban, previously on Broadway in “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” is a gentleman’s Sweeney. It’s possible to argue that his buttoned-up countenance and natural nobility are like dressing up a demon in a top hat and overcoat. But if there is bloodthirst underneath his desperation, it’s not an unhinged or unpredictable one. His voice can conjure a thousand associations, but here, menace isn’t one of them. When he swings his razor high, the hair on the back of your neck doesn’t budge.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Together, Groban’s Todd and Ashford’s Mrs. Lovett are seductively comedic, tragic, and desperate—he slitting throats upstairs and then dispatching bodies down a Willy Wonka-ish chute into the fiery furnace for Mrs. Lovett to somehow expertly de-sinew and butcher into pies. If Todd seems lost in his madness but in outward control, Mrs. Lovett seems more attached to reality even if she is more lost in her mind. As he sings about killing, she reminds him they have to actually get rid of a body.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post: Immediately we realize that Groban is not the menacing, feral Todd that Len Cariou and Michael Cerveris were, but a calmer chap with an ax to grind. This choice cuts both ways. Sweeney is more human, yes, but some scenes lack intensity. His song “Epiphany” — in which he declares, “They all deserve to die!” — isn’t as scary as it should be. Still, Groban is as well-sung a Sweeney as you’ll find.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Chris Jones, New York Daily News: Many Broadway revivals of musicals from decades past insist on revising, reconsidering and imposing. Thomas Kail’s triumphant revival of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” does none of that. At once funny, scary and disarmingly moving, this must-see production is content to peel back any cobwebs or artifice and let Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Gothic revenge tragedy of a musical howl anew with the agony of human injustice and the ameliorating constancy of love.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Mark Leydorf, Bloomberg: The other pieces of the puzzle don’t quite fit together. The play’s characters may offer different spins on theatrical archetypes—Sweeney is a meta musical, composed decades before that was a thing—but they still need to inhabit the same world. Mrs. Lovett is written as a broad music hall clown, landing each jaunty song with an emphatic button. But Annaleigh Ashford is a shameless laugh machine, and she’s so hilarious, it throws the show out of whack. It’s hard to blame her; she’s got to fill the awfully big shoes Angela Lansbury left behind 44 years ago. Lansbury was indeed a riot, but she was always in character, tirelessly trying to make Sweeney laugh. Ashford seems fixated only on making us laugh. She’s doing a marvelous show—the friendly preview audience I saw gobbled up every bit—but it isn’t Sweeney Todd.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Patrick Ryan, USA Today: But this 'Sweeney' belongs to the spellbinding Ashford, a Broadway veteran known more recently for her TV work in CBS sitcom "B Positive" and Hulu's "Welcome to Chippendales." From the moment she springs up from behind the counter, her Lovett is instantly endearing and almost pitiable in her delusion. Desperate for Sweeney's affection, she constantly hangs on his arm and flirtatiously pretzels herself around him, refusing to believe she's just a means to an end. Ashford is bloody brilliant in her elastic expressiveness and slapstick comedy, throwing and spinning herself across the stage in showstoppers "A Little Priest" and "The Worst Pies in London."

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Greg Evans, Deadline: In a Broadway season that might be remembered for a lovely, pared-down minimalism – the intriguing starkness of A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain, the less-is-more near-concert-style presentations of Into the Woods and Parade – director Thomas Kail’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will stand out for, among many other attributes, its full-on, unabashed ambition. A prodigious theatrical event that aims for greatness and achieves it, this revival of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler masterpiece is not to be missed.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Jackson McHenry, Vulture: In their “A Little Priest,” as elsewhere, the psychosexual drama of Sweeney takes the lead. Sweeney and Lovett are more busy punning by way of foreplay for you to focus much on the class war of the number. Their revenge plot is less a righteous up-yours to those above and more a personal crusade. It’s both, because everything in this musical means many things at once, but placing emphasis on the erotic side sets the production spinning in a particular direction. The second act plunges further into violence, with the city on fire and the killings piling up, and the emotions that get big while the focus remains tight. The thing still feels like a chamber opera even on a stage full of bodies. Steven Hoggett choreographs the ensemble to swirl like a murmuration of birds, in sync and inhuman. (He also did The Cursed Child, which explains why I expected everyone to bring out a wand.) The massed crowd isolates Sweeney and Lovett on the fringe and provides them with the anonymity they need to pull off their scheme. In the production’s most chilling moment, they disappear into it. You imagine the pair might rematerialize behind you as you wait at a stoplight some night soon.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Emlyn Travis, Entertainment Weekly: When onstage together, Ashford and Groban are a force to be reckoned with as they bring the painfully one-sided relationship between their characters to life. Ashford, who often adopts a starry-eyed look whenever Groban is near, is sweet and accepting of all of Todd's glaring red flags — at one point remarking to her murderous partner, "Surely one's enough for the day, dear?" — while Groban's Todd utilizes her affections for his own violent ends. At times throughout the performance, it almost appeared as if Ashford was gleefully trying to goad Groban into dropping Todd's deadpan demeanor with her outlandish antics. She appeared to succeed once throughout the night — getting Groban to crack a full-bodied laugh during their phenomenal performance of "A Little Priest" — but by then she was equally laughing too, so the pair simply took a beat before proceeding with their cannibalistic crooning.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Dan Rubins, Slant Magazine: That doesn’t damn his Sweeney, though, since Groban is better able than some to explore the other edges of the barber’s frayed psyche. When Mrs. Lovett mocks him early on for vowing violent revenge against his enemies, we share her incredulity; it’s hard to believe our kindly Groban could do such a dastardly thing until the blood starts rushing from throat after throat. His violence spawns evil and not the other way around. He is, in other words, believably human. We can see in Groban the man that Mrs. Lovett fell in love with 15 years ago, and because he so convincingly sells his tender longing for his lost wife, we can buy his need for payback too.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served. Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 Sweeney Todd may well be the greatest of all Broadway musicals: an epic combination of disparate ingredients—horror and humor, cynicism and sentiment, melodrama and sophisticated wit—with a central core of grounded, meaty humanity. But while the show’s quality is baked into the writing, portion sizes in recent years have varied. Sweeney Todd’s scope makes it expensive to stage; its 1989 and 2005 Broadway revivals (and the immersive 2017 Off Broadway incarnation) presented the show with greatly reduced casts and orchestrations. Not so for the thrilling version now playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, directed by Hamilton’s Thomas Kail: This production features a 26-piece orchestra and cast of 25 led by Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford. It’s a feast for the ears.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Robert Hofler, The Wrap: All this analysis of the singing might be a clue to what’s occasionally wrong with Thomas Kail’s direction when his actors aren’t thrilling us with their superb vocals. Kail brings out the humor in “Sweeney Todd” that both John Doyle (2005 Broadway revival) and Tim Burton (2007 film version) eschewed. Ashford sees to that almost singlehandedly. She doesn’t miss a chance to twist a phrase or an eyebrow in her burlesque seduction of Sweeney. Elsewhere, Kail’s approach is a little too operatic, too respectful. There’s even a stateliness verging on lethargy between some of the musical numbers. “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” and “The Contest” have always been problematic.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Matthew Wexler, Queerty: Sweeney Todd’s latest incarnation (its fourth on Broadway) is terrifying — not just because of a bloody straight razor or what happens to those who befall its sharp edge. But because of its natural descent into madness to which any of us could succumb. Add a final tableau that will steal your breath faster than a shave in Sweeney Todd’s barber chair, and Sondheim, even from beyond the grave, has achieved his goal.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: I’d never call myself a Sweeney Todd person—thrillers simply aren’t my thing, on stage or screen—but every time I see a production I leave with a deeper appreciation for Sondheim’s score, packed with swoon-worthy melodies and subversively witty lyrics. (Is “A Little Priest” the best-ever example of Sondheim’s wordplay? Discuss.) The new Broadway revival—starring Josh Groban, Annaleigh Ashford, a 26-member orchestra, and Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations—is guaranteed to do the same for you. It sounds spectacular.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Bob Verini, New York Stage Review: Many fine productions, large-scale or intimate, have sauntered their way up and down Fleet Street since Hugh Wheeler’s book and Sondheim’s score premiered in 1979 in Harold Prince’s acclaimed staging. But the current revival at the Lunt-Fontanne is a thing apart. Thomas Kail, director of that latter-day groundbreaker Hamilton, has assembled all the pieces needed for what Sondheim himself finally summed up as “a movie for the stage.” The result is something both sumptuous and terrifying, truly a Sweeney Todd for the ages.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Brian Scott Lipton, Cititour: As expected, Groban sings with the kind of beauty, purity and clarity mere mortals can only dream about. You will never hear a prettier version of the second act’s “Johanna” or a more glorious “Pretty Women.” Yes, I’ve heard more chilling version of “My Friends” (sung to, yes, his razor), but in every way, not a false note emerges from Groban’s mouth.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Theatre Guide: Both leads deliver exactly what they’re best at. Groban, a Tony nominee for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, has a nice-guy persona and lacks the sinister side to convince as a man "even rats fear," according to the title song. He also blends into the crowd in group scenes. But when he sings, Groban commands focus 100 percent. He taps directly into the mournful tones of “The Barber and His Wife,” in which he recalls his past, and the despair of “Epiphany,” as he faces his future. Last seen on Broadway as Dot in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George, Ashford is a very fine singer, but her comic chops set her apart. She won a Tony for You Can’t Take It With You, a play in which she bounced off the walls. She is clearly in her comfort zone here.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: Groban impressively acquits himself as an actor (the vocals were never in question) but is directed, as is the rest of the cast, to play the role as a rational one. Sweeney’s yearslong, one-track minded pursuit to avenge his wife is not a scorched-earth nihilism towards humanity, but a logical solution to an irksome problem. Mrs. Lovett’s idea to throw everyone around her into the grinder is borne, not out of desperation, but simply savvy. Ashford’s trademark quirkiness and appeal, typically a winning formula, don’t help the production’s need for grit. Only Jamie Jackson (as Judge Turpin) and Ruthie Ann Miles (as the Beggar Woman), are allowed to gaze deeply into the melodramatic abyss of their characters, really exploring the depravity that underscores the ghastly, cynical plot. These choices don’t stop the show from working (Sondheim and Wheeler’s craftsmanship is unsinkable), but do defang what should be a blood-curdling night of theatre.

Review Roundup: SWEENEY TODD Opens on Broadway
Average Rating: 85.0%

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