New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Review: 2023’s ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street’ revival brings more than blood and guts

The two-time Tony-winning revival’s comprehensive attention to visuals, music and choreography make it an unforgettable spectacle.
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“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street” is a broadway show with powerful stagecraft. (Courtesy photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

With its stunning 26-piece orchestra, a star-studded cast and some of the grandest stagecraft on Broadway, attending the tale of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street” is nothing short of riveting. The show pulled out all of the stops to produce an extravagant tale of loss, lunacy and recklessness. 

The magnificence of the show can be traced to the drama of its story. The musical starts off with a strange man named Sweeney Todd (Josh Groban) trying to start a new life in 19th century London after being exiled to Australia 15 years prior — and being separated from his wife Lucy (Ruthie Ann Miles) and daughter Johanna (Maria Bilbao) in the process. 

Sweeney joins forces with Mrs. Lovett (Annaleigh Ashford), the eccentric proprietress of Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop, in an attempt to get revenge against Judge Turpin (Jamie Jackson) and Beadle Bamford (John Rapson) who destroyed Sweeney’s life and imprisoned his daughter.

Throw in some murder, pure chaos and straight-up cannibalism, and there you have “Sweeney Todd.”

Director Thomas Kail does an exceptional job balancing terror and tragedy with humor, creating a performance that is both digestible but still outrageous. In the song “God, That’s Good!” mobs of customers in Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop take part in a culty chant about the meat pies, while Sweeney casually slides his victims into a meat grinder in the background. Ashford delivers a hysterical account of the “secret recipe” of the meat pies, with lyrics like “Things like being careful with your coriander / That’s what makes the gravy grander!”

Lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim also crafts an exhilarating musical score. First impressions set the tone for the rest of the show, and the prelude “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” did not disappoint. The ensemble of Londoners, with their harmony of distinctly strong soprano and bass voices, as well as their menacing dead stares, create the macabre atmosphere the musical deserves.

However, the most underrated part of “Sweeney Todd” is its lighting design. At the 76th Tony Awards, Natasha Katz — known for an impressive 70-show portfolio including “School of Rock – The Musical” and “Frozen” — won Best Lighting Design of a Musical for her work in “Sweeney Todd.” She rigged chiaroscuro lighting, a high-contrast technique where key light is used to produce acutely lit subjects against dark backgrounds, to intensify the visual suspense of Sweeney’s next moves. Combined with incredibly brisk choreography, the lighting design directs audience members’ eyes all around the stage in a matter of seconds, adding to the musical’s drama.

Although musical theater usually relies on extravagant dance numbers, Groban’s and Ashford’s simple yet fast-paced footwork was entrancing. In “A Little Priest,” the last song of the show’s first act, titled since a little Priest is baked into a pie over the course of the number, Groban and Ashford don’t move more than a few feet away from one another on the stage floor. But, Groban’s striking gestures paired with Ashford’s playful skipping, hopping and jittering make for a performance just as impactful as a more excessively choreographed song in another production.

After Sweeney’s victims face peril throughout the story, the ending brings Sweeney a bittersweet fate, with weaknesses from his past coming back to haunt him. The ending serves as a testament to the duality of human nature, and leaves you thinking — and probably not in the mood for pie.

Many Broadway shows are known for one or two things. Whether it’s “Hadestown” with its angelic vocals or “The Book of Mormon” with its witty one-liners, every show has its defining quality. But “Sweeney Todd” shouldn’t be known for just one or two things. From the masterful musical score, brilliant script, lighting design and intricate blocking, there isn’t a single technical aspect that “Sweeney Todd” misses with. You won’t regret attending the tale of Sweeney Todd, especially to catch Groban outside of his usual “You Raise Me Up” grace and elegance.

Contact Andrea Lui at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Andrea Lui, Dining Editor
Andrea Lui is a sophomore at Stern studying Business with concentrations in Finance and Computing & Data Science and a minor in Business of Entertainment, Media and Technology. She developed a profound love for writing while performing poetry, prose and dramatic monologues for over 10 years as a competitive public speaker. At NYU, she's also an Admissions Ambassador and serves as the External Relations Co-Director of the Board of Undergraduate Stern Women in Business. Andrea is on a mission to try every single restaurant in New York City … Check out @lui.andrea on Instagram to see if she succeeds.
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