Josh Groban to Star in ‘Sweeney Todd’ Revival on Broadway
The demon barber of Fleet Street is returning to Broadway.
“Sweeney Todd,” the deliriously gruesome Stephen Sondheim-scored musical about a wronged man bent on revenge, will get a big-cast, big-orchestra, big-budget revival next spring starring Josh Groban in the title role.
Groban, a pop star renowned for the timbre of his voice, will star in the title role opposite Annaleigh Ashford, a Tony-winning actor with a gift for comedy, who takes on the part of Todd’s co-conspirator, a pie shop owner named Mrs. Lovett.
The “Sweeney Todd” revival, quietly under discussion for three years and encouraged by Sondheim, who died in November, has been one of the worst-kept secrets on Broadway — speculated about for months on chat boards, and detailed last month in the email newsletter Broadway Journal.
On Tuesday, the production made it official: The revival will begin previews Feb. 26 and open March 26 at the 1,500-seat Lunt-Fontanne Theater.
“This show is full of such great scary fun,” Groban said in an interview. “It is Grand Guignol, it is penny dreadful.”
“There is obviously a plot here that is absurd and monstrous,” he added, “but then there is also an incredible back story to this character that makes the role even more terrifying, because for all intents and purposes this was a civilized, good man that was driven to this.”
Groban, who has long loved the musical’s score — he named his dog Sweeney — said he believed the role fit his strengths. “I was not ever a song-and-dance man, so for me to have roles that were cerebral and were gritty and interesting — and baritone — these were roles I felt I could really sink my teeth into,” he said. “We all have these roles that we think to ourselves, ‘If this were ever to happen, I would give it everything that I’ve got,’ and this is certainly one of those roles for me.”
Ashford, who starred in the Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” said she had wanted to play Mrs. Lovett since she was in her early teens, “before it was appropriate for me.”
“This role is one of the finest ladies of the American musical theater canon,” she said. “She does a terrible thing, and she is a monster, but I’ve always seen her as a woman who is trying to find love and trying to be loved.”
The production has an all-star team. It will be directed by Thomas Kail, the Tony-winning director of “Hamilton,” and produced by Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer of “Hamilton.” The choreographer is Steven Hoggett, an acclaimed British movement director, and the set designer, Mimi Lien, is not only a Tony winner but also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.
This will be Groban’s second star turn on Broadway — in 2016 he led the cast of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” winning strong reviews and a Tony nomination. Ashford has a longer Broadway track record; she has appeared in seven Broadway shows, winning a Tony in 2015 for “You Can’t Take It With You” after scoring her first nomination in 2013 for “Kinky Boots.”
The revival of “Sweeney Todd,” which has a book by Hugh Wheeler, comes at a time of intensified interest in Sondheim’s work. A new production of “Into the Woods” has been among the best-selling shows on Broadway this summer, and an upcoming Off Broadway revival of “Merrily We Roll Along,” with a cast led by Daniel Radcliffe, is likely to be a tough ticket, given that the New York Theater Workshop, where it is being staged, has only 199 seats.
Sondheim and Groban had developed a friendly relationship in the years before the composer’s death — Groban periodically performed Sondheim’s songs in concert, and Sondheim reached out when “The Great Comet” began its run. Sondheim died just three days before the revival’s first workshop began; he had been planning to attend a read-through on the workshop’s final day.
The original production of “Sweeney Todd” opened on Broadway in 1979 and won eight Tony Awards, including one for best musical. It has been revived twice on Broadway and staged widely elsewhere; in 2007 it was adapted into a Hollywood film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
The last two major New York productions were both small scale and intense — there was the 2005 Broadway revival, in which the actors also served as musicians (Patti LuPone, as Mrs. Lovett, played the tuba), and there was an immersive Off Broadway production in 2017 at which a former White House pastry chef served pies.
The new revival veers in the other direction: big. It will have a cast of 26, and an orchestra of 27, Seller said, with a budget of about $14 million. Kail, who is friendly with Groban and put the production together after learning of his interest in the role, said that the revival would remain set in the 19th century, and that its size would offer “the opportunity to really embrace the scale and the scope” and to “let it live in that fullness.”
“We’re really excited to make something that is able to touch all of those things that ‘Sweeney’ can do,” Kail said. “It can thrill you, it can make you laugh, and there’s also epiphany.”