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The Student News Site of Kinnelon High School

Colt Chronicle

The Student News Site of Kinnelon High School

Colt Chronicle

Josh Groban “Kills it” in Newest Production of Sweeney Todd on Broadway

A new production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is on Broadway and it’s jam-packed with talent, beautiful music, and all the gore you could ask for.
Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman
Josh Groban performs in beloved Broadway musical “Sweeney Todd”

To Kinnelon students and residents who enjoy a trip to the city in search of a deeply thought-provoking, entertaining, and masterfully done Broadway show, what better choice than a Sondheim classic? 

A revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, starring Josh Groban, Annaleigh Ashford, and Gaten Matarazzo has hit the streets of Broadway. But be warned, fans  of kid-friendly shows such as Frozen, Aladdin, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This isn’t an overdone Disney remake or a quirky, contemporary show like Dear Evan Hansen or Be More Chill. This is Sondheim, which means it has characters that are deeply traumatized, a darkly sober take on societal themes such as grief and loneliness, all backdropped by a heart-wrenching, operatic-style score. 

Like past productions, this version of Sweeney Todd, directed by Thomas Kail, approaches the macabre Sondheim classic with a new and interesting take. The show’s core plot and characters remain intact: set in London in 1864, it tells the story of Benjamin Barker, a barber who was unjustly exiled to an Australian penal colony by vile-hearted Judge Turpin, who then rapes Todd’s wife and abducts his daughter, Joanna, raising her as his own. The show opens with Barker’s return to London, now with the name Sweeney Todd, after fifteen years of imprisonment. After learning of Turpin’s actions, Todd goes on a murderous rampage, accompanied by his accomplice, Mrs. Lovett. Together, they create a scheme to murder Judge Turpin and rescue Joanna from Turpin’s grip. 

In past productions, Sweeney Todd has been portrayed with different takes from each actor. Len Cariou, who originated the role in 1979, characterized Todd as moody, with a tendency to be rash and brooding. In the film adaptation, Johnny Depp plays Todd as a stoic and reticent man, whose bloodlust is practically the only thing that drives him to passion. But in today’s production, Josh Groban’s Sweeney Todd seems to show a far wider range of emotions, including a tender mournfulness at the core of his desire to murder. Groban’s portrayal of Sweeney brings out the humanity in the character that is unique to his performance. Some critics have remarked that Groban is too soft and lacks the anger that the role requires, while others applaud him for bringing out the human behind the murderer. 

Indeed, Groban’s artistic choice of grounding his performance in the themes of grief and loss rather than vengeful bloodlust brings a refreshing melancholic mood to the show. It also makes the character more relatable; it’s easier to empathize with someone who is a grieving husband and father rather than a senseless murderer.

However, Groban’s performance is not the only highlight of the show. It would be a crime to ignore the comedic brilliance that is Annaleigh Ashford’s portrayal of Mrs. Lovett.  In playing Todd’s doting accomplice, who grinds his victims into meat for her pie shop, Ashford somehow brings a surprising sense of hilarity to the otherwise morbid reality of their partnership. The Kinky Boots star’s effortless comedic timing creates a likability to her otherwise zany and sometimes psychotic character. For those who love dark humor, this show is a perfect match. 

Together, Groban and Ashford have a chemistry onstage that is nothing but delightful to see.

Of course, best not to forget another very notable actor. Stranger Things star Gaten Matarazzo never fails to display his wide-ranging talent, bringing a charming charisma to whatever character he plays, whether onscreen or onstage. In this show, he plays Tobias, a street orphan who is taken in by Mrs. Lovett. Matarazzo’s heart-breaking performance of the show’s most beloved ballad, “Not While I’m Around,” is enough to bring a whole theater of seasoned Sondheim fans to tears. 

There are a number of other things to praise about this production, including the costumes, set design, and incredible musical talent of the cast and orchestra. Altogether, it’s safe to say that this production of Sweeney Todd is absolutely killer.

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