Review Round Up: Sweeney Todd, Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

We take a look at what is being said about the new revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford.

(c)Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Variety: “Kail’s production has an austere severity that’s suited to serial killings but also makes it feel coolly remote. The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is cavernous; Mimi Lien’s soaring sewage tunnel set emphasizes its proportions, which make a stunning canvas for the shadowy grandeur of Natasha Katz’s lighting design.” “Complimenting a production’s lighting is traditionally the way critics avoid talking about everything else, but the enveloping atmosphere is the whole emphasis and advantage of Thomas Kail’s production of Sweeney.”

The New York Times: “Certainly Kail’s production makes a convincing new case for “Sweeney” as a Broadway-size property, with its cast of 25 (I’ve seen it with as few as nine) and its orchestra playing Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations for 26. (You can’t believe the difference three trombones make in creating the sound of doom, especially compared to none.) Under Alex Lacamoire’s musical supervision, the musicians’ performance, like that of the ensemble in the choral numbers, is glorious.”

Deadline: “A prodigious theatrical event that aims for greatness and achieves it, this revival of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler masterpiece is not to be missed.”

The Guardian: **** “If Groban comes across as flat, his voice, which thrums with menace, embraces every given note. As Mrs Lovett, Annaleigh Ashford, one of Broadway’s great comedians, makes soiled hay of every joke and rhyme. She doesn’t commit herself to the character’s darkness as some Lovetts do (she’s having too much fun), but she emphasizes the unrequited desire for Sweeney, which gives the absurdity the occasional rotgut kick of real feeling.”

USA Today: “Unlike Lovett’s repugnant meat pies, there’s nothing half-baked about this “Sweeney Todd,” which in its stunning final moments, reminds you just how exhilarating live theater can be.”

New York Post: “Ashford is a remarkably gifted comedienne. However, there’s more to her Lovett than schtick. With modern flair, she conjures memories of the very real women who’ve befriended serial killers like Ted Bundy or Charles Manson to find purpose or love.”

Time Out: **** “The storytelling is always clear, as was not the case with the smaller recent revivals, even though the size of this Sweeney’s company seems to have left little room in the budget for production design; Mimi Lien’s bilevel set—with its minimal furnishing, multipurpose rotating tower and amorphous gray background—is efficient but does little to evoke 19th-century London. (Emilio Sosa’s costumes do help establish it, and Natasha Katz’s lighting is first-rate.) You won’t leave humming the scenery, but that’s fine: The superb score, which melds period genres (operetta, music hall) with modern influences (notably that of Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann), is the main attraction, and it comes through gorgeously. Powerfully sung and played in Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations, Sondheim’s Grand Guignol masterwork sounds as grand here as it deserves to. Dig in.”

The Wrap: “All this analysis of the singing might be a clue to what’s occasionally wrong with Thomas Kail’s direction when his actors aren’t thrilling us with their superb vocals. Kail brings out the humor in “Sweeney Todd” that both John Doyle (2005 Broadway revival) and Tim Burton (2007 film version) eschewed. Ashford sees to that almost singlehandedly. She doesn’t miss a chance to twist a phrase or an eyebrow in her burlesque seduction of Sweeney. Elsewhere, Kail’s approach is a little too operatic, too respectful. There’s even a stateliness verging on lethargy between some of the musical numbers. “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” and “The Contest” have always been problematic.”

Talkin’ Broadway: “If there is one element that serves as the glue to hold it all together, it is Natasha Katz’s stunning lighting design of deep shadows and judiciously-employed spotlighting (e.g., the glint of Sweeny’s razor) that set the most consistent tone for the evening. Mimi Lien’s set design also does a fine job of providing the overall industrial look and the altogether frightening basement where the final horrors unfold, doing wonders to establish and maintain the atmosphere in this Sweeney Todd. And, thankfully, there is that lovely barber chair in place so that we can fully appreciate those very close shaves. When it works, it works extremely well, and there are great pleasures to be found throughout, if not consistently, so that it is well worth visiting this production, whether again or for the first time. But perhaps before you head to the theater, you should consider listening to a recording of the original Broadway cast so you can hear those lyrics.”

Theatrely.comSweeney Todd is, after all, a testament to Sondheim’s brilliance, and ability to populate a stage with differing viewpoints, sometimes from within the same person, and present them as not only understandable, but profoundly relatable. Give or take a few quirks, this top-shelf production more than capably delivers his goods.”

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