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‘Sweeney Todd’ Brings Audiences a Perfectly Toxic and Horned-Up Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett

The cast of Sweeney Todd on stage

In the great catalog of Stephen Sondheim musicals, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street happens to be my favorite. Which isn’t surprising: I’m an Italian Scorpio. We love murder. But there is something about the eerie tale of Sweeney that just makes me giddy to be in a Broadway theatre. And the new revival, directed by Thomas Kail, brings us a Sweeney that is, well, super horny.

Sweeney (Josh Groban) is a sad, suspender-wearing murderer and Mrs. Lovett (Annaleigh Ashford) is the woman who is hopelessly in love with him. Thankfully, this new revival of Sweeney Todd really leans into that because it is truly what drives the show as a whole.

If you asked me to describe Sweeney Todd in one simple sentence, I’d say, “It’s about a couple who murder people and shove them into meat pies in the name of revenge and sex.” Now, Sweeney Todd himself is mourning the loss of the family he thought he had with Lucy, whom he believes dead, and his daughter, Johanna, who is trapped by Judge Turpin. But when Sweeney returns to his old home of London and the life he once led, he goes to his old apartment above Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. And that’s where the horniness begins.

The show itself has always been inherently horny because Mrs. Lovett is in love with Sweeney, and desperately so. And in this production of Sweeney Todd, I get it. Not that I haven’t gotten it in the past, but this time I really get why Mrs. Lovett continues to pine over Sweeney. Kail and company did an absolutely incredible job of layering Mrs. Lovett’s feelings for Todd over their evil-doings in a way that makes their dynamic just work so incredibly well.

Sweeney’s waiting …

Josh Groban as Sweeney Todd with his razor
(Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Josh Groban as Sweeney Todd is something that, frankly, surprised me. I admittedly missed Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 when Groban was in it, so this was my first time seeing him on stage. It was truly and honestly incredible, especially for someone who listens to Groban’s version of “Where I Want to Be” from Chess often. But he brings more to the role of Sweeney Todd than just his soothing voice. (Yes, you will think about “Who is Josh Groban? Kill yourself” often while watching his Sweeney. You’ve been warned.)

It’s so easy to make Sweeney Todd a cold character with nothing behind him other than his desire for revenge. But Groban brings a level of fondness towards Mrs. Lovett that a lot of other productions lack. Often, Sweeney is so bogged down by his desire to get Judge Turpin in his chair that he ignores everyone around him, and that coldness gives him away to Toby.

Groban’s take on the character feels like a man lost to the life he could have had and making do with this new dynamic he’s created with Mrs. Lovett. It leads me to believe that these two have more than just a working relationship with each other.

The suspender work? Me and who?!

Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett and Josh Groban as Sweeney Todd making puns
(Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Annaleigh Ashford’s Mrs. Lovett never really stops touching Sweeney. And god, did I love it. Groban’s costume includes suspenders, and there are parts throughout the show where Ashford literally takes them down or holds on to them, and it became my obsession. It also just informed the entire show for me, making me believe that these two are not just business partners. And it makes Mrs. Lovett a little less sad in my eyes.

Often, Mrs. Lovett feels like a woman with an unrequited crush. But then, in the song “By The Sea,” Mrs. Lovett seems to say that the two have been physical with one another when she’s dreaming up their life: “Me rumpled bedding, legitimized,” she says, insinuating that the two have slept together. Or at least that’s how I read it.

For the most part, this is one of the first times in Sweeney Todd where I believe that the two have slept together. She can’t stop touching him, and he doesn’t seem to outright hate her like other performers have played it, and the two have a relationship that works for them.

My son is so good!

Gaten Matarazzo as Toby singing about meat pies in Sweeney Todd
(Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Gaten Matarazzo brings Toby to life in the production and plays a pivotal role throughout the story of Sweeney Todd. But what makes his Toby so special is that you really understand how lost this child is. Toby works with Adolfo Pirelli, the king of the barbers and the barber of kings, and when Pirelli reveals himself to be Daniel O’Higgins, the former apprentice of “Benjamin Barker” (who Sweeney Todd used to be), it starts Sweeney’s murderous journey.

What works about Toby as a character is that he cares. While Mrs. Lovett pretends she has motherly instinct, Toby does actually care about her. It makes his descent into understanding that much more frightening as the show goes on. It works so well because Matarazzo plays it so subtly. You get to see as he slowly starts to realize what is happening, his desire to free himself and Mrs. Lovett, and everything that spirals because of it.

And I’ll never see Johanna

Jordan Fisher and Maria Bilbaro in Sweeney Todd being in love
(Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

The true heart of Sweeney Todd has always been Anthony. Played by Jordan Fisher, he is a hopeless romantic just wanting to run away with the beautiful woman he saw in the window. Fisher really uses his vocal range to his advantage. The first foray into “Johanna,” a song that returns throughout the show, is softer and less powerful. When Turpin has Anthony banished from seeing Johanna (Maria Bilbao), he stands outside her window belting his love for her once more. And that choice really sealed Fisher’s performance for me.

It pairs so well with the “Johanna” in act two, where Anthony is determined to rescue his love while Sweeney is killing customers and thinking about the life he could have had with Johanna and Lucy (as Benjamin Barker). The show works cohesively because the entire production just really understands what makes Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street so delicious.

Murder looks so good

Annaleigh Ashford and Josh Groban singing about murder in Sweeney Todd
(Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Sweeney Todd as a musical isn’t for the faint of heart. There were people in my audience who clearly had no prior concept of the show. (I heard someone say “this is aggressive” during Sweeney’s period of non-stop murdering and filling Mrs. Lovett’s meat requests.) If you love murder and twisted cannibalism, you’ll enjoy Sweeney on its own, but this production in particular is addictive.

I left the theatre and instantly wanted to go back inside and attend the tale once more because as always, Sweeney’s waiting and he wants you bleeders.


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is currently on Broadway. Viciously murdering unexpecting customers never looked so good.

(featured image: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.