Broadway Review: SWEENEY TODD (Lunt-Fontanne)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 24, 2023

in Theater-New York


Annaleigh Ashford’s thoroughly delightful and sympathetic portrayal of Mrs. Lovett, the good-humored but sinister piemaker is, unfortunately, one of the few compelling elements in Thomas Kail’s lackluster revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the 1979 Stephen Sondheim musical, with book by Hugh Wheeler based on Christopher Bond’s play, currently on offer at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theater. Ms. Ashford proves, if proof were needed, that musical acting need not look like a parody of bad 19th-century Grand Guignol Theatre, with exaggerated gestures, affected speech and hammy facial expressions. Her performance, though certainly stylized, is always truthful. And her lovely little inventions give Mrs. Lovett so much personality and life that the character is almost enough to carry the entire show.

Annaleigh Ashford and Josh Groban

Noteworthy too is a solid turn by Gaten Matarazzo as Tobias, the boy who goes from assisting the charlatan-turned-blackmailer Pirelli (Nicholas Christopher), to working for Sweeney Todd (played by Josh Groban and his excellent voice) in his barber shop. Mr. Matarazzo lends Tobias the lovely innocence and earnestness of a boy in a den of iniquity who wants to do good, who tries to do good, but who pays the price for it in the end.

Gaten Matarazzo

Much of the dialogue in Sweeney Todd is delivered in song, which is the other saving grace of this production, as Sondheim’s music and lyrics are immensely entertaining, especially when sung by first-rate singers, as they are here. Mysterious and funny, dark, romantic and clever, Sondheim’s score evokes joy and fantasy, and makes this story of mass murder and cannibalism a cozy and personal affair. This juxtaposition might seem odd, even inappropriate. But what it offers is an opportunity to peek at the essence of this theatrical creation, which lives behind the façade of plot and literal action — the way spectacular mysteries lay hidden in seemingly simple fairytales — allowing one a glimpse of that undefined place beyond, a place to which emotion and imagination are keys.

Gaten Matarazzo, Annaleigh Ashford and cast

It’s not difficult to imagine what a great show Sweeney Todd could be if all of its elements were brought together in a satisfying way. Sadly, this uninspired spectacle is rife with disharmony. Much of the cast lacks chemistry, and Mr. Groban can’t seem to find his Sweeney, a barber falsely convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in Australia, who returns to London to seek revenge and turns to murdering his customers; he is aided by his landlady, Mrs. Lovett, who grinds up their flesh for her much-sought-after meat pies.

Ruthie Ann Miles

Jamie Jackson (the corrupt lech Judge Turpin), John Rapson (the brutal church officer and Turpin lackey Beadle Bamford) and Mr. Christopher all have fun with their characters, creating peculiar accents and gestures. But in the grand scheme of things these amount to amusing curiosities as opposed to elements directing us to that singular vision, which is so important for an artistic work, but which isn’t evident here. Even Mimi Lien’s set, grand and massive, with its gorgeous oven, doesn’t quite work on the whole.

Nicholas Christopher and cast

This lack of a singular focal point makes the whole show feel clunky and dull. Though, once again, judging by the thunderous applause and massive vocal approbations of the crowd, apparently I find myself in the minority.

Jamie Jackson and John Rapson

photos by Matthew Murphy& Evan Zimmerman

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.
for tickets, visit Sweeney on Broadway

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sara Diaz December 23, 2023 at 8:01 pm

My son and I attended Sweeney Todd at the Lunt Fontanne Theater on 12-23-2023. The show was beautiful and the singing and acting incredible. Sadly we had to leave 1 hour into the show because the seats B1 & B3 Mezzanine were crunched up against the seat in front. I’m 5′ 7″ and my son 6″ and pretty slender people. I developed a bad cramp in my calf. My son had to put his legs in the aisle. Very disappointed considering we spent close to $500 for the tickets.


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