‘Sweeney Todd’ Evaluate: Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford Shine in Broadway Revival

Up till about 10.45pm on Thursday night, this critic thought he had seen the perfect coup de théâtre of this Broadway season on the finish of A Doll’s Home starring Jessica Chastain, by which her Nora walks out of her residence and… properly, it is going to nonetheless go unrevealed right here in case any readers have purchased a ticket. However then got here the final thrilling second of the zipping, wonderful revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Avenue (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, reserving to Jan 14, 2024)—and, sorry A Doll’s Home, you will have been aced.

It’s not only a visible feat in that final second. A tangibly delighted viewers was able to applaud. The ultimate exits from the stage have been in course of, the final crescendo of notes reached. After which, bam, the ecstatic response of the viewers anticipating their cue to face all of the sudden gained the cherry on prime of a pant of collective shock. In that closing second—like a lot of the present, thrilling and arch abruptly—an beautiful manufacturing outdid itself. (Count on a Sondheim vs. Sondheim scenario at this 12 months’s Tony Awards, with this manufacturing seemingly up in opposition to Into the Woods for Finest Revival; Sweeney Todd the third pretty Sondheim revival in New York following Merrily We Roll Alongside off-Broadway.)

This Sweeney is an intricate, witty piece of storytelling— from an adaptation by Christopher Bond and e-book by Hugh Wheeler—with gorgeously frisson-filled orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. The present, directed with imaginative brio by Thomas Kail, just isn’t fault-free (principally to do with its deficiencies in its lack of sound and amplification, and its design), however these faults should not basically undermining.

The refrain of dancers and singers information us by way of the story from the start, each gossipy and—as their Thriller zombie-like swaying back and forth exhibits—horrified, scared, and traumatized (the whirlingly spirited choreography is by Steven Hoggett).

This complete overview could possibly be a drooling recitation of Sondheim’s genius with lyrics, however there it’s proper in the beginning with the refrain singing at their theatrical gallop, “He saved a store in London City, Of fancy shoppers and good renown. And what if none of their souls have been saved? They went to their graves impeccably shaved,” by way of to their campily wide-eyed staccato repeats of “the demon barber of Fleet Avenue!”

The wonderful Josh Groban performs Todd with a effervescent fury and impatience, in addition to a simmering outrage and madness, returning to London, “the opening on the earth…the good black pit” inhabited by “the vermin of the world” to get his revenge on Decide Turpin (a suitably unctuous and malign Jamie Jackson) whose machinations led to each his exile and breakdown of his marriage. His serial killing spree extends to all males he sees embodying all that’s improper on the earth. As he sings, furiously, “Not one man, no, nor ten males, nor 100, can assuage me.”

Gaten Matarazzo, Annaleigh Ashford, Josh Groban, Nathan Salstone and the corporate of Sweeney Todd.

Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Reverse Groban is a severely Tony-contending, barnstorming efficiency by Annaleigh Ashford as pie store proprietor Mrs. Lovett, her comedy of gleeful carelessness curdling to deadly obsession. She is punky, off-kilter, type of feral—quiet, then booming.

We all know hers is the proper place for Todd to arrange his barbershop killing machine in as a result of, as Ashford sings in her Mrs. Lovett’s first music, she is already liable for “The Worst Pies in London,” plucking bits of goodness is aware of what from the pastry, mini-clouds of dust-meets-flour puffing forth, pleased with her horrible status of giving “abdomen cramps to half the neighborhood” as Ruthie Ann Miles’ character of the Beggar Girl places it.

Mrs. Lovett wonders if a competitor is placing cats in her pies, then provides blithely that these pussy cats are “fast.” Her personal pies? Nicely, they’re greasy and gritty and style of—Ashford deploys the proper pause right here—“pity.”

The 2 are completely mismatched, a pressured union of conflicting wants that may solely result in catastrophe. When Groban holds his barber blades up, he tells us they’re his mates, they usually do certainly “glisten” as they catch the sunshine. Collectively they are going to do “wonders.” As he sings that, Mrs. Lovett sings a counter-verse of affection and connection for him, revealing that whereas allies they need such various things. She imagines actual jewels, whereas he imagines the rubies of blood dripping from necks.

Collectively, Groban’s Todd and Ashford’s Mrs. Lovett are seductively comedic, tragic, and determined—he slitting throats upstairs after which dispatching our bodies down a Willy Wonka-ish chute into the fiery furnace for Mrs. Lovett to one way or the other expertly de-sinew and butcher into pies. If Todd appears misplaced in his insanity however in outward management, Mrs. Lovett appears extra connected to actuality even when she is extra misplaced in her thoughts. As he sings about killing, she reminds him they’ve to really eliminate a physique.

It’s man devouring man my expensive. And who’re we to disclaim it right here?

Sweeney Todd

Simply as a lot because the musical is about homicide, revenge—and all the time being cautious to examine the provenance of your meals—additionally it is in regards to the unquenchable furnace of capitalism and venality that London was changing into; the musical positing its residents actually changing into cannibals in service to their needs.

“It’s man devouring man my expensive,” Todd says to Mrs. Lovett of the noise of town. “And who’re we to disclaim it right here?” The 2 make merry as they think about the different-tasting pies relying on their human constituent, like clergymen (“Heavenly”), poets, and marines (who all the time style of the place they’ve been). Quickly, London is feasting on these horrors, with Mrs. Lovett bashfully refusing to expose the key of the style: “Household secret, all to do with herbs.”

Ashford’s Cockney accent travels arounds the remainder of the British Isles barely, however regardless of. She’s a bodily comedy genius, a complete, very suave ham, bringing the shole present to a laughing standstill as she slides down the steps. When Mrs. Lovett s
ings her music of romantic fantasy, “By the Sea,” Ashford drapes herself over Groban, misplaced within the imaginative and prescient of an idyllic future life (“with the fishies splashing, wouldn’t that be smashing?”). She actually hangs off him, flapping her arms as a menacing seagull, as he evenly recoils from her till he can not bear to be so well mannered about it. The viewers laughs at each her imaginings and method, however Todd’s rictus curl of lip underlines we must also be scared for her and the price of her delusion.

In moments, Ashford’s and different voices disappear into the cavernous backdrop of the Lunt-Fontanne stage, and this, whereas not her fault reveals the present has an acoustic concern. This critic was lucky to be close to the stage, however nonetheless felt, particularly initially of the present, quite a lot of sound was both being misplaced or not being strongly sufficient conveyed into the theater.

Mimi Lien’s two-tiered design goals to carry to murky life the 19th century tangle of darkish streets and smoking chimneys of 19th century London, and we form of really feel the roiling, corruption-streaked metropolis Todd sings of with such disdain, however—past the fiery orange of the pie store furnace—not sufficient. The staging feels additionally feels recessive; ingenious in some methods—particularly in act two once we notice the complete use of the towering stair/oil derrick trying contraption on the suitable hand aspect—but in addition lumbering, looming, and fussy. The characters can really feel misplaced on stage at moments when they need to really feel central and pronounced. The scenes can really feel too organized quite than seamlessly flowing.

Is the sound being swallowed again there, or being misplaced within the house between stage and viewers? No matter, if a personality is speaking softly, the viewers is struggling to listen to them. Natasha Katz’s lighting is luminously stunning; shafts of white gentle pierce the gloam from above and the edges, as if psychologically lighting the charnel home meets netherworld and gateway to hell that Mrs. Lovett’s pie store turns into. Major colours flush the fixed define of the moon in the back of the stage, and the characters as they prowl and ponder. Emilio Sosa’s costumes are period-perfect.

Ruthie Ann Miles within the manufacturing of Sweeney Todd.

Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Subsidiary characters are so properly sung and imagined they hardly really feel hardly subsidiary. Miles because the tangle-haired, barely understandable Beggar Girl has one of many hardest roles—a way more important character than her identify implies, she can be a one-woman Greek refrain of all that unfolds, who expresses the fear of all she sees throughout her with cries of “Metropolis on fireplace!”, once more pairing the horror of what’s occurring inside Mrs. Lovett’s pie store with the ravenously capitalist metropolis round it. Maria Bilbao as Johanna, Todd’s secret daughter, is Turpin’s each ward and creepily supposed bride, has each a sweetness and a spiky impatience about her imprisonment.

Jordan Fisher as Anthony performs his love for Johanna, and willpower to rescue her, stoutly straight—and sings his love music, “Johanna” with a bring-the-house-down ardor. Reunited at one level they sing over one another, she imagining him killed, in a debtors’ jail, or trampled by a horse, he desirous to marry her. Their music, “Kiss Me,” has a springy sense of enjoyable to it, contemplating the determined circumstances Johanna is in, Sondheim ingeniously threading within the converse plans of Turpin and his sidekick Beadle Bamford (John Rapson) by way of the lyrics.

The high-jinks and mugging of Pirelli (Nicholas Christopher), Todd’s barber competitors and first sufferer, as they face off to show who can de-whisker prospects finest, is one other act one delight; Todd taking one have a look at Pirelli’s hair elixir and declaring it “piss—with ink.”

As Pirelli’s assistant, Tobias, Stranger Issues’ Gaten Matarazzo has a vulnerability and deadly inquisitiveness as he wonders what occurred to his boss, and what actually occurs within the depths of the pie store. He and Ashford give that famously tender aria, “Not Whereas I’m Round,” a quietly bruised depth (although it too feels barely misplaced in how it’s staged on the far left of the stage)—a gathering of not-parent and not-child promising to guard each other, which Mrs. Lovett will quickly betray each for herself and her obsession with Todd. The musical proposes a brand new mannequin for what households and bonds could appear like, then tears them aside, as a result of—no spoilers—proper in entrance of us is a organic household that must be collectively however is damaged asunder.

That unit is additional damaged by the mounting murders and tragedies on stage, and town careening uncontrolled, with “rats within the streets and lunatics yelling on the moon” because the refrain sings. Groban and Ashford’s ultimate scene collectively is the proper bookend to the insanity of Todd and Mrs. Lovett’s relationship, she deluded to the tip—he, desirous to actual a ultimate revenge for being cheated of all that he may have had and was proper in entrance of him. The refrain has the ultimate fevered say of what has unfolded, however it’s the masterful Groban and Ashford—heading to the again of the stage in near-darkness till… properly, you’ll see—who command our consideration and rapturous applause to the final.