Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

If I were forced to name one favorite show, it might well be Sweeney Todd. (Actually, it would be Sweeney-Night Music-Follies, but that's cheating.) Sweeney's size, wit, pathos, beauty, and lushness add up to an evening of riches. It can also be enjoyably frightening.

The current Sweeney, starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford, leans heavily on the wit and humor (and, unfortunately, shtick), leaving it less emotional and devastating. However, it is beautifully sung and often quite funny, and its (relatively) large orchestra is a gift. 

I have in the past discussed with friends whether Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett ever had sex. Most of my friends said no. I thought they did, although not necessarily good sex. In this production, they are definitely lovers, and they enjoy each other. Whereas most of the Sweeneys I've seen have sung "A LIttle Priest" with humor, they have still been somewhat stiff, definitely damaged. Groban's Sweeney is loose, giggly, and even flirty, and it's nice to see Sweeney having fun for once. While the production's emphasis on humor undercuts its power, having Sweeney like Mrs. Lovett makes her betrayal hit particularly hard.

Josh Groban lacks the gravitas to totally pull off Sweeney, but his voice is gorgeous. Annaleigh Ashford carries her shtick too far into the story, undercutting the show's impact, but she is frequently wonderful.

The direction is messy. Sometimes it is impossible to find what you should be focusing on. And, ironically enough, despite the production's humorous bent, it misses some of the best jokes in the show. Also, the choreography is a total minus for the show and completely unnecessary.

Overall, though, this Sweeney is well worth seeing. While not the best version I've seen, it is solid. And, oh, that music!

Wendy Caster 

No comments: