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Josh Groban, Annaleigh Ashford on Learning From Sondheim in ‘Sweeney Todd’: “We Try to Find What He Left Us in the Work”


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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 enjoying Sweeney Todd has been his hardest activity but. 

“It’s undoubtedly probably the most difficult factor I’ve ever accomplished. Bodily, vocally, emotionally. I can say fairly safely that that is the toughest endeavor, creatively I’ve ever taken on. However it’s a beautiful solution 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 massive ensemble and the notorious, hinged barber’s chair that looms over the proceedings. Groban’s operatic baritone elevates the basic 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 he or she, like Groban, sees the challenges inherent inside it. However there was no query she would take it on. 

“You study early on as a younger actor within the musical theater that Sondheim is the objective. So if it comes up, you say sure,” Ashford mentioned. “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, enjoying villains and memorable scenes on this manufacturing, comparable to doing the splits down a set of stairs. 

Josh, was this a bucket checklist 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 once I was youthful to see theater, to expertise reveals like Sweeney Todd. Certainly one of my first recollections of doing Sweeney Todd was at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, and I bought to be part of that once I was 15 years previous. 

Had 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 an enormous fan of Angela Lansbury, who originated the function of Mrs. Lovett. 

Annaleigh Ashford: I at all times simply needed to be Angela Lansbury once 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 he or she was an actor throughout a time when the patriarchy was ruling robust, and he or she 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 3 times — I cried in a method that was so awkward that I needed to stroll away.

Had been you interested by Angela Lansbury whenever you took on this function?

Ashford: Any time that you simply strategy 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 Woman M, you’ve bought to have a look at the web page and work out how one can interpret it by your instrument, which is your soul and your physique, and simply see what comes out. So I used to be undoubtedly, completely impressed by her interpretation, and I really feel it all around the web page and all around the piece. I say thanks to her each night time and I say thanks to Stephen Sondheim each night time, 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 up to now. Had been you interested by enjoying a villain?

Groban: I feel the attention-grabbing factor for me about Sweeney Todd was the function itself and the best way it was written, not a lot in regards to the thought of simply enjoying a villain usually. I imply, it’s at all times enjoyable to play towards sort, I suppose. It’s a pleasant problem and means that you can stretch your wings and dive into completely different sides of your storytelling, however for me the attention-grabbing factor about Sweeney Todd was simply all the juxtapositions: the attractive rating mixed with the darkish humor, the darkish storyline. There’s 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 sort.

Had been you capable of communicate 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 by 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 needed to ask him within the work. And we’re always discovering it’s all there.

Amid all the darkish materials, one of many scenes the place it appears 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 individuals to make into pies. What’s it like doing that scene each night time?

Groban: Properly, we simply attempt to preserve it actually recent. We love our time collectively on stage a lot, we now have a lot enjoyable. [Annaleigh] is clearly such a riot and so she brings a lot mild to the darkish and brings humor to this, which is one thing we additionally know Sondheim actually needed, to actually lean into that darkish humor. And so our objective each time we do this music is definitely to crack one another up, in the best way that Lovett and Sweeney are cracking one another up, to actually 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 enjoying a recreation. It’s a word-puzzle recreation. So that you’re enjoying a puzzle all through the music and you then’re additionally fixing this drawback, which is type of the last word present that the actor at all times desires of like, what’s your impediment? What drawback are you going to resolve? And so for six minutes we get to resolve this drawback with one another. 

At one level within the present, Mrs. Lovett meets Decide 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 resolution?

Ashford: It’s within the textual content. Every thing’s at all times within the textual content. I actually needed to point out a distinction of sophistication. She’s on the very backside of the social totem pole. She’s by no means truly encountered anyone as excessive because the choose 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 rise up, she’s on the steps and realizes there’s nowhere to go however all the way down to the underside of the steps. So she simply will get down the steps. I used to be type of like, “What would she do if she met the Queen of England and he or she curtsied on the steps?” She’d simply get down them any method she might. So she slides down the steps. She’s attempting to look cool, after which in an try and look cool, she appears uncool, which is what all of us do.

This interview was edited for size and readability.

Pavan Kumar
Pavan Kumarhttps://site.viagracc.com
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