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A Second Look At “Sweeney Todd” And Some Thoughts About Great Theatre

In the mid-90s I became an inveterate theatre going, both on and off Broadway which, on Broadway, means I had nosebleeds for “Angels In America”, “Rent” a year before it reached Broadway where you walked out of the theatre into the district where the musical takes place, Adam Guettel’s “Floyd Collins”, Eric Overmyer’s conspiracy theorist “In Perpetuity Throughout The Universe”, two life (my life) changing productions, the Lincoln Center “Arcadia” which I caught four times and the triumphant “Showboat” at the Gershwin -I also saw it multiple times. Opening night at “Sunset Boulevard” where Billy Wilder made an appearance And “The Lion King”…

At the same venue as “Sunset Boulevard, in 2003, I went to the dreaded “Wicked” many times because it was my “go to” on a first date (girls loved it), a lousy Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” and a deluge of Disney musicals, including a lousy “Tarzan”, a lousy “Mary Poppins”, a lousy “The Little Mermaid”… and a pretty good “Beauty And The Beast”. Plus Jennifer Ehle’s best in class take on “The Real Thing”. Not to mention Mel Brooks “The Producer” and I got my tickets the day they went on sale because, well, because it was Mel Brooks. By the 2010s I was reviewing many things I saw in the theatre for rocknyc. The list is huge (type theatre in the search bar), including everything from the post-pandemic “The Music Man” to the pre-pandemic “Hamilton”.

This year I saw my own fair share of turkeys including a shameful Aaron Sorkin job on “Camelot” and jukebox monstrocity “@ Juliet”. But I followed up seeing Sondheim’s “Company” from a nosebleed to front row for a second viewing and then “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street” (here) where Josh Groban was a no show but Annaleigh Ashford as a genius Mrs. Lovett . That was April 26th and I followed it with a mid-orchestra seat on May 6th and this time Josh did show.

So many, many nights on Broadway… And while the list of shows I missed (David Bowie in “Elephant Man”) in the 80s, when I was essentially destitute, is, well, everything, I did make up for it with 21 shows since the end of the pandemic alone. It’s a pricey love affair but in 2023 concerts can be much more expensive.

My Best Productions Ever?

Arcadia – 1995

Sweeney Todd – 2023

Show Boat – 1994

The Real Thing – 2000

The King And I – 2005

There are many things I love about theatre but at my age I love that it starts promptly and ends on time most of all (!): you don’t sit around cursing the artist for an hour. I would add that, for instance, while they claim “Sweeney Todd” is nearly three hours in length, it isn’t. I timed it. It is actually two hours in length with a huge half hour plus intermission that they claim is fifteen minutes, you are paying for three hours and getting two. With a musical as beautiful and horrifying as “Sweeney Todd” you can complain at your own risk.

Also, while noted and accepted that Broadway tickets are larcenously expensive, unless it is prime period “Producers”, “Hamilton” or “Music Man”, you can certainly shop for decent prices. I got my mid-orchestra “Sweeney” for $204.56 including fees off seatgeek though the lowest price that day on Telecharge was $550. And while even that might sound expensive, for comparisons sake I paid $400 for Taylor Swift at the last row of MetLife and was lucky, the same ticket is changing hands for $1500 right now.

“Sweeney” is choreographed by Steven Hoggett who did the same work for “Harry Potter”; I went to London to catch the “Cursed Child” (here) three months after it opened on the West End and was completely wowed and while one review I read of the current “Sweeney” amusingly claims they should be waving their wands, that is throwing darts at the moon. As directed by Hamilton” director ‘s Thomas Kail the production is abundantly clear we know what is happening and we know why at all times. “Johanna” and “Pretty Women” are not the greatest versions imaginable, they are still up there, and both “Attend…” (now available on streaming services while we await the album) and a show stopping highlight (also Act One closer) “A Little Priest” -the best song ever written about cannibalism are the best you’ve heard.

We already know how great Annaleigh’s comic, high art, low culture, class different Mrs. Lovett is, and standby Nicholas Christopher was not only beautifully voiced but his baritone is so sturdy that it put fear and loathing in the midst of his performance. Josh Groban sings it even better, but his lovely voice changes the brutal demon to a melancholic Prince; the worst moment of both performances I saw was Groban’s Todd barks at Anthony “Get Out” after his young friend shows up unannounced moments before Todd was to get his revenge on the Judge who stole his wife and daughter and had him sent to Australia. The plot kicks in with his return. when Nicholas roared his “Get Out” and lunged for him it was a scare highlight and you worry for Anthony, Groban had no threat and only tears. Put it his way, Annaleigh will be very difficult to replace if they have a long run and Groban will be easy to replace, and with the right actor in the central role it might be even better.

Meanwhile I am off to see Encores in concert take at on “Oliver!” at City Center on Saturday. I saw the “Chicago” at Encores! (with Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking) back in 1996, before it made its way to Broadway where it remains.

I’ve been watching reruns of the 1950 – 1967 “What’s My Line” and Apple Plus “Schmicago” and Broadway culture never goes away. “What’s My Line” was outside the window found the Great white Way and where stars on Broadway and visited the game and “Broadway was part of their life’s in the 50s and 60s and jump forward 15 years and Alan Cummings plays a satirical but not that satirical take on Todd (Kristin Chenoweth as their Mrs. Lovett variation, Kristin and Annaleigh Ashford are very similar performers). Attention must be paid… so must eight Tony’s prove our attention.

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