Sweeney Todd is held by many Sondheim fans to be his greatest work. There’s plenty of evidence of that these days with the current Broadway production, which earned eight Tony nominations. As Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford were nominees in the lead acting categories, and the production was a candidate for best revival. No winners this time around, but it was a remarkable year with six more nominations for the revival of Into the Woods (which closed in January).
A lot of attention was paid to the lush accompaniment for this Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd — using Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestration for 26 musicians, including strings, woodwinds, brass, harp and percussion. Conducted by Tony Award winner (for Hamilton) Alex Lacamoire, this could be a sign that some shows have realized they can attract audiences with big orchestras. Here’s a link to Jeff Lunden’s National Public Radio feature that suggests this could be a trend. For a taste of Jeff Groban singing “Epiphany” with this gorgeous accompaniment, use this link for a sample from the upcoming cast recording, .
Good news for Sweeney Todd fans across the U.S. — the current Broadway production will spawn a national tour in 2025. Casting, dates and cities haven’t been announced yet. But let’s hope that the success of the Broadway production might mean more substantial orchestral accompaniment for the tour.
Sondheim fans in the Twin Cities are surely heading to the renowned Guthrie Theatre for its production of Into the Woods that opened recently and will run until August 13. Staged by Sarna Lapine (James Lapine’s niece), it features Broadway veteran Lisa Howard as the Witch. Lapine is building her Sondheim resume: She recently staged Sweeney Todd for for Arlington, Virginia’s Signature Theatre, one of the most prolific producers of shows by Sondheim.
If you’re seeking a straightforward overview of Sondheim’s shows, I recommend this lecture by Sean Hartley, the director of the musical theater division of the Kaufman Music Center in New York City. Over the course of nearly two hours, he performs songs and talks about each show.
Did you watch the delightful musical theater send-up, Schmigadoon!, on Apple TV? The first season about a young couple who wander into a magical town where everyone bursts into songs at the drop of a straw hat. Its six episodes — performed by casts of numerous Broadway stars — have lots of fun with parodies of songs inspired by Rodgers & Hammerstein and others and from the Golden Age of Broadway by Chris Willis.
He’s also the composer who put together the numbers for the second season, Schmicago!, which has lots to enjoy with echoes of Sondheim fans, since its six episodes draw upon on shows from the late 1960s and 1970s — especially Sweeney Todd, with Alan Cummings and Kristen Chenoweth doing their own renditions of characters inspired by Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. The second season also offers tunes inspired by Kander & Ebb’s Chicago, as well as Hair.
Finally, I want to share the good news that my reference book, The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia, is coming out in paperback in September at a much more affordable price ($55). It’s available for pre-order via this link.
Thanks as always for reading this monthly blog. I’m always on the lookout for news of interest to Sondheim fans! If you know someone who might like to receive these notices, please point them to www.RickPenderWrites.com