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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street review – dazzling Broadway revival

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York

Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford play Stephen Sondheim’s murderous Victorian couple in a bold and barnstorming take

Despite having worn a beard for much of his career as a recording artist, Josh Groban knows his way around a razor. Or at least he has learned fast. In Thomas Kail’s sumptuous Broadway revival of the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical, Groban plays the barber of the title. It’s a counterintuitive choice in that his charm resides in the curious contrast between his sweet, menschy face and a rich, rumbling baritone, as dark as venous blood. And in truth, he never goes as dark as the role requires. Sweeney is among the great villains and antiheroes the musical stage has produced. Groban seldom reveals the depths of rage, trauma and mania that make a monster of this man. It’s a close-shave approach to the role: clean and precise, it doesn’t pierce the surface.

If Groban’s partial view performance is a tear in the barber’s apron of the revival, it also shows how durable that apron is. Based on a made-up Victorian shocker, it tells the tale of a homicidal stylist and the widow who upcycles today’s victims into tomorrow’s lunch. Haunting, horrible and thrilling, the show harmonizes its penny dreadful origins with a dense, operatic score that elevates the grand guignol into something grander and more terrifying, with beauty and horror and screeching comedy fighting it out from one song to the next. It’s a nightmare of a show and in some ways a dream, pushing at the boundaries of what a musical might say and do and be.

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