Josh Groban, Annaleigh Ashford on Studying From Sondheim in ‘Sweeney Todd’: “We Attempt to Discover What He Left Us within the Work”
Josh Groban has gone on world excursions, carried out on the Olympics, co-hosted the Tony Awards and appeared on Broadway as soon as earlier than, however taking part in Sweeney Todd has been his hardest activity but.
“It’s positively probably the most difficult factor I’ve ever performed. Bodily, vocally, emotionally. I can say fairly safely that that is the toughest endeavor, creatively I’ve ever taken on. Nevertheless it’s an exquisite strategy to be drained,” Groban says.
Groban stars reverse Annaleigh Ashford within the present Broadway revival of the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical, directed by Thomas Kail. This manufacturing fills the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre with a 26-piece orchestra and atmospheric fog that encompasses its giant ensemble and the notorious, hinged barber’s chair that looms over the proceedings. Groban’s operatic baritone elevates the traditional rating, as he performs the aggrieved, murderous barber out for revenge, whereas Ashford’s Mrs. Lovett meets him with infatuated power and knowledgeable bodily comedy.
That is the second Sondheim function Ashford (Masters of Intercourse, Impeachment: American Crime Story) has performed, after portraying Dot in Sunday within the Park with George reverse Jake Gyllenhaal, and she or he, like Groban, sees the challenges inherent inside it. However there was no query she would take it on.
“You be taught early on as a younger actor within the musical theater that Sondheim is the aim. So if it comes up, you say sure,” Ashford stated. “And also you get to play the puzzle.”
Ashford and Groban, who’re each Tony-nominated for his or her portrayals, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about their ties to Sweeney Todd, taking part in villains and memorable scenes on this manufacturing, equivalent to doing the splits down a set of stairs.
Josh, was this a bucket record function for you?
Josh Groban: Oh, yeah. I imply, earlier than I used to be within the music enterprise, theater was my dream. I used to be very fortunate to have had alternatives after I was youthful to see theater, to expertise reveals like Sweeney Todd. One in all my first reminiscences of doing Sweeney Todd was at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, and I bought to be part of that after I was 15 years outdated.
Have been you Sweeney Todd?
Groban: No, no, I used to be within the ensemble, however I liked each minute of it.
Annaleigh, I’ve heard you had been a giant fan of Angela Lansbury, who originated the function of Mrs. Lovett.
Annaleigh Ashford: I at all times simply wished to be Angela Lansbury after I grew up, as a result of she was the last word character actress. She was someone who discovered humor and life and humanity in each character that she performed. After which she additionally was a lady on this trade who navigated all the womanly issues. She was a mom, she was a spouse, and she or he was an actor throughout a time when the patriarchy was ruling robust, and she or he navigated it with grace and love. And so not solely is she a task mannequin and an idol to me as an actor, however as an individual. Each time I met her — I met her thrice — I cried in a means that was so awkward that I needed to stroll away.
Have been you serious about Angela Lansbury while you took on this function?
Ashford: Any time that you just method an iconic piece of textual content, materials, function, I feel it’s your responsibility to acknowledge those that have come earlier than you and given you a highway map, and you then do what you do with all nice textual content, you take heed to what’s on the web page. So identical to any one who’s ever performed Hamlet, or Lear, or Girl M, you’ve bought to have a look at the web page and work out how one can interpret it by way of your instrument, which is your soul and your physique, and simply see what comes out. So I used to be positively, completely impressed by her interpretation, and I really feel it everywhere in the web page and everywhere in the piece. I say thanks to her each evening and I say thanks to Stephen Sondheim each evening, and Hugh Wheeler, all the greats who created this piece, Hal Prince. Their spirits stay inside the spirit of the piece.
Josh, this function is dissimilar from what we’ve seen you do prior to now. Have been you curious about taking part in a villain?
Groban: I feel the fascinating factor for me about Sweeney Todd was the function itself and the way in which it was written, not a lot in regards to the thought of simply taking part in a villain usually. I imply, it’s at all times enjoyable to play in opposition to kind, I suppose. It’s a pleasant problem and lets you stretch your wings and dive into completely different sides of your storytelling, however for me the fascinating factor about Sweeney Todd was simply all the juxtapositions: the gorgeous rating mixed with the darkish humor, the darkish storyline. There may be such magnificence and ugliness collectively within the function, together with among the most extraordinary music and lyrics ever written. It truly is only a masterpiece to have the ability to carry out no matter kind.
Have been you capable of converse with Sondheim about taking over the function or in regards to the manufacturing?
Groban: We by no means bought to dive into the manufacturing itself earlier than he handed away, sadly. It’s one thing that all of us, after all, want we had an opportunity to do, want we had extra time with him. We did, nevertheless, have his blessing, which is one thing we had been grateful for. I’m eternally grateful that I had his enthusiasm and his blessing to do the function earlier than he handed away. We simply by no means bought to speak in regards to the particulars of it. And so, day-after-day that we do the present, we attempt to discover what he left us within the work and attempt to discover the solutions that we’d have wished to ask him within the work. And we’re continually discovering it’s all there.
Amid all the darkish materials, one of many scenes the place it appears to be like such as you’re having probably the most enjoyable is throughout “A Little Priest,” when Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett are buying and selling rhyming phrases about what sort of folks to make into pies. What’s it like doing that scene each evening?
Groban: Nicely, we simply attempt to hold it actually contemporary. We love our time collectively on stage a lot, we’ve a lot enjoyable. [Annaleigh] is clearly such a riot and so she brings a lot gentle to the darkish and brings humor to this, which is one thing we additionally know Sondheim actually wished, to essentially lean into that darkish humor. And so our aim each time we do this music is definitely to crack one another up, in the way in which that Lovett and Sweeney are cracking one another up, to essentially discover the maniacal twisted humor in what they’re plotting. And so we go there. We’re having completely as a lot enjoyable because the viewers thinks we’re.
Ashford: It’s like taking part in a sport. It’s a word-puzzle sport. So that you’re taking part in a puzzle all through the music and you then’re additionally fixing this drawback, which is form of the last word reward that the actor at all times goals of like, what’s your impediment? What drawback are you going to unravel? And so for six minutes we get to unravel this drawback with one another.
At one level within the present, Mrs. Lovett meets Choose Turpin, the archenemy of Sweeney Todd. And on this staging, Annaleigh, you bow to him on the high of the steps after which slide down the steps within the splits to exit. How did you arrive at this determination?
Ashford: It’s within the textual content. Every part’s at all times within the textual content. I actually wished to indicate a distinction of sophistication. She’s on the very backside of the social totem pole. She’s by no means really encountered anyone as excessive because the decide on the social totem pole. And so when she bows to him, she bows as deep as she thinks is suitable. After which when she tries to stand up, she’s on the steps and realizes there’s nowhere to go however right down to the underside of the steps. So she simply will get down the steps. I used to be form of like, “What would she do if she met the Queen of England and she or he curtsied on the steps?” She’d simply get down them any means she may. So she slides down the steps. She’s making an attempt to look cool, after which in an try and look cool, she appears to be like uncool, which is what all of us do.
This interview was edited for size and readability.